These little fruits are the real apple of my eye.

While I like the large, juicy sweet apples being harvested at orchards everywhere this season, I am currently enchanted by the little (and less well-known) crabapple.

Crabapples are in the genus Malus, just like regular apples, and can be found as ornamentals in backyards and wild in American woodlands and fields. What differentiates a crabapple is the size of its fruit, which most sources define as smaller than two inches in diameter.

Last week I harvested a basket of crabapples from an old farmstead. The color of these fruits was an amazing ruby red that blazed from a small tree. Though I don’t yet have a firm plan for their use, I turned them into pulp that can be easily frozen and used later.

I am intrigued by the culinary possibilities that include verjuice, apple butter, jams and jellies, fruit leather, cider, chutney and wine. In fact, you can use crabapples as you would regular apples in almost any recipe, but may have to adjust the sugar depending of their tartness. Be sure to remove and discard the seeds, which contain cyanide.

There are great reasons to harvest crabapples. Besides the fact that they can be foraged from the wild (so are free), they are healthy and healing. British doctor William Salmon found them “cold and astringent,” but suggested that they be “boyled or scalded, and eaten with butter and sugar . . . to strengthen the stomach, quench the thirst and cool the heat of fevers.”

Other cultures had their own medicinal practices. Scottish Highlanders mixed crabapples with buttermilk to treat hoarseness and crushed them to relieve sprains and cramps. Even rotten crabapples were valued, applied as a poultice to sore eyes, boils and earaches. Rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber, it is hard to go wrong, unless you overindulge, since crabapples also have a laxative effect.

Even if you don’t eat them, they are still quite useful. Folklore suggests that crabapples, also known as crabs or wildings, were used to determine which suitors were most eligible. In Scotland, a woman was told to put a crab under her pillow on St. Andrew’s Eve, and on the following Sunday, take it to church and the first man she saw standing on the porch would become her husband.

There were a few other suggestions with which I take issue. One, from England, suggests using the crabs to pelt the parson after St. Luke’s Feast. And this disturbing verse was found in T. F. Thiselton-Dyer’s book The Folklore of Plants: “The crab of the wood is sauce very good for the crab of the sea, But the wood of the crab is sauce for a drab that will not her husband obey.”

Resist the urge to throw these crabs at friends or enemies, and never ever use the wood to whip your wife. Follow this advice and you won’t be the rotten apple that spoils the bunch.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.