Wild Berries, Wildly Delicious!

August 9th, 2011 | by | 5 Comments
Published in Berries, Botany, Shrubs
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On my daily morning stroll with the kids, something bright red and shiny caught my eye in the green shrubbery lining the trail. It was a perfect salmonberry, and I took a moment to savour its sweet, seedy ripeness. Now that summer is here there is a wealth of edible wild berries to enjoy.

Bowl of Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis)

A mouth watering bowl of Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis) – good incentive to go berry picking!

Eating locally sourced foods, including wild foods, has greatly increased in popularity. Wild berries have a very high nutritional value, and can offer many health benefits. Learning about, and sampling edible wild berries is a wonderful way to connect with nature right here in the Comox Valley. It also connects us to history, since wild berries were a staple food of First Nations peoples for thousands of years.

Though there are many edible berries in our area, I’ve come up with a shortlist of five that are easy to find and identify. Bon appetite!

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)

Salmonberry is the first berry to ripen in our area, and can be found from May through to the summer months. The berries vary from golden yellow to orangey red, and are rather like a shiny raspberry. Some claim that salmonberries are insipid, but others think they are divine. Salmonberries have a high water content and can quickly turn to mush, so do not layer very many in a pail.

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)

One of the first berry shrubs to bloom, salmonberries are a delicious summer treat.

Salmonberry forms dense thickets in moist places, often along streams and rivers. The leaves are green and toothed, and in the early spring it produces pretty pink flowers that look a bit like wrinkled tissue paper. The stems are golden brown and satiny, and there are a few thorns.

Red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium)

The red huckleberry is one of the prettiest woodland shrubs. The delicate oval green leaves and green stems are dotted with bright red berries the size of small peas. Some find the berries to be a bit on the sour side, but they have a nice, refreshing flavour. Though red huckleberries are found at lower elevations, their close relatives, the blueberries are (in our area) found primarily in the mountains.

Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium)

It’s been a good year for Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) – look for it during the summer alongside shaded forest trails.

Huckleberry often grows in decaying wood, and may be seen sprouting from the top of an old stump or log. It is found in coniferous forest, or along forest edges.

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)

Thimbleberries ripen in late June to July. The clusters of rounded berries detach easily from the core, and can be perched thimble-like on the tip of one’s finger. Mature berries are a ruby red colour, and are drier than the more watery salmonberry. Due to the thimbleberry’s course seediness, it is a good berry for drying.

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) is a perfect size to perch on the end of a thumb or finger before eating!

Thimbleberry has soft, fuzzy leaves that are quite large and maple-leaf shaped (they make a good on-the-trail toilet paper). Saucer-like white flowers stand out nicely against the green foliage. Thimbleberry may be found in places that are either moist or quite dry.

Salal (Gaultheria shallon)

Dark purple salal berries are roughly blueberry-sized and grow in rows along the ends of branches. They are very sweet with a mealy texture that some find unpleasant.

Salal (Gaultheria shallon)

Salal (Gaultheria shallon) is a somewhat mealy, but tasty berry. Salal is a common understory shrub in West Coast forests.

Salal is one of the most common shrubs in the Pacific Northwest. The egg-shaped leaves are thick and leathery, and persist through the winter. They are often used in floral arrangements, and salal harvesting has become quite a big business in BC. Salal has small but attractive bell-like white flowers.

Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus discolor)

The Himalayan blackberry is one of the most familiar and most picked wild berries. Originally introduced from India (via England), Himalayan blackberry is now well established in the Pacific Northwest. Blackberries are juicy and flavorful, and unlike previously mentioned “raspberry” type berries such as salmonberry and thimbleberry, blackberries do not separate from the core. Though popular with pickers, Himalayan blackberries grow vigorously, and their arched, prickly branches can take over native vegetation. For this reason, it is considered an invasive plant, and efforts are ongoing to remove it from many areas.

Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus discolor)

Popular with pickers, reaching the best Himalayan Blackberries (Rubus discolor) can often be a thorny problem!

Trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus) is the only species of blackberry native to our area, and the berries, which ripen in July, are very good. Much smaller than the Himalayan blackberry, trailing blackberry “trails” along the ground, and often lassos the leg of a person passing by. These delicious native blackberries are worth looking for.

Before heading out with the berry bucket, pack a guidebook (Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Pojar and MacKinnon is a handy reference) to double-check proper identification. Many berries are unpalatable, and a few are poisonous, so it is always best to err on the side of caution if in doubt. Picking is prohibited from Provincial Parks, and even in non-park areas, one should be mindful of the fact that numerous creatures, including bears and many species of birds, may depend upon berries at certain times of the year. Take a few and leave plenty.


Responses

  1. Joan Ingram says:

    August 11th, 2011 at 8:46 am (#)

    Hello. I was intrigued with the “salmon berries.” These look identical to the Newfoundland “bakeapple” or “Cloud berry” Fred’s brother Ron, used to make an annual trek to Grand Bruit to pick bake apples. Your comment about the test is “right on.” either one loves them….or doesn’t like them at all. I have a jar of “bakeapple jam” made by Bernice in my fridge now. I am on the side of the “love thems.”!

    No sign of any chokecherries or pincherries here, but I must get out and check on the blackberries. Great article, thanks.

  2. Judy says:

    August 11th, 2011 at 9:59 am (#)

    Does this year seem to you to be a particularly good berry year?
    Maybe it’s partly the all the rain earlier keeping things from drying out, but I wonder if it also means there are fewer birds around this year eating them.

  3. Dave Ingram says:

    August 12th, 2011 at 7:08 pm (#)

    Thanks Judy – I’m not sure what it is but you’re absolutely right, it does seem to be a good year for berries. Our kids were filling up on huckleberries this weekend during a day hike – they were everywhere!

  4. Tini Pickkers says:

    August 14th, 2011 at 2:24 pm (#)

    Got the site from Joan, Nature gives us a lot to look for. Beside we can eat them. Nice pictures and a fine discription, where to look for. special first time lookers Thank you for a great site…………Tini

  5. Island Nature  :: Red-flanked Bluetail, Brambling, Lower Mainland Twitch says:

    February 4th, 2013 at 11:44 pm (#)

    [...] brambling returned to the feeder that was mostly obscured by a rambling Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor) so views were typically “peek-a-boo” through a tangled mess of thorny canes. George got [...]

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