In my last column, I divulged my passion for wild-food foraging and shared a recipe for a nettles pesto. I am continuing the theme in this editorial because the outdoors are bursting with life. And because my very favorite plants, our abundance of wild berries, are ripening soon.
Most folks recognize the invasive and prolific Himalayan blackberry. These suckers are everywhere and, while they provide an abundance of fresh fruit in later summer months, they tend to crowd out native plants. Of course, I still pick them abundantly and enjoy their sweet fruit, but there are many more berries to be had all season long.
The first native berry that typically ripens is the red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium). Their flowers burst forth in mid-April, and, by June we can expect to see ripe berries on the small shrub. Huckleberries are related to cranberries and blueberries. They share some similar nutritional properties, including being high in vitamin C and mannose.
Mannose is a common holistic treatment for urinary tract infections. While mannose has no direct antimicrobial properties, it can be helpful in combination with other therapies, due to its ability to prevent certain bacteria from attaching to the bladder lining.
Around the time the huckleberries bloom, another native berry will ripen: the salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis). Aptly named, these berries range in color from salmon-orange to magenta-red. These berries are part of the Rose family and are related to blackberries and raspberries.
I have had many a stranger comment that they didn’t know the salmonberries were anything but an unripe blackberry. In general, salmonberries are not our sweetest wild fruit, but mixed with other berries, I still delight in their harvest.
Salal berries (Gaultheria shallon) also ripen around the time of the salmonberries. Salal is a relative of the wintergreen plant, although it smells and tastes nothing like wintergreen. These fairly mealy berries were used by many Native folks and were often mashed and dried into cakes. Today, you might find them as an ingredient for jams and jellies.
Early in the season, salal berries are actually quite sweet. As the summer heat picks up, they tend to get drier and less flavorful.
For a few short weeks in late June to early July, my most cherished berry arrives — the dewberry (Rubus ursinus). Dewberries are one of our native blackberries. They grow as a trailing vine along the ground. Dewberries have distinct female and male plants; only the females produce fruit. The unripe red berry darkens to black when ripe and tastes something like concord grape jelly. They are rich in antioxidants and one of the most delicious berries around.
For only a few short weeks in early July, thimble berries (Rubus parviflorus) make their appearance. Thimble berries look very similar to a raspberry. They are delightfully sweet, fairly crunchy due to their high seed content and squish easily between your fingers when picked. Unlike their rose, raspberry and blackberry relatives, they do not have thorns, which is a nice reprieve after a long day of picking.
By the time you have eaten your way through the huckleberries, salmonberries, salal, dewberries and thimble berries, the Himalayan blackberry will be ripe and ready to be enjoyed. Collecting berries is an activity that really is great for the whole family. It gets everyone outside, it builds a relationship with nature, it’s physically active and wild berries are terrific nutrition.
As always, please move mindfully whenever learning a new skill, such as wild-food foraging. If you have any doubt about your plant identification, it is better to throw it out and get more training. Also, it is always recommended to learn about the rules and etiquette for plant foraging because these systems keep the activity sustainable for all.
Did I miss your favorite berry? Do you have something to add? Feel free to send me a message through my website.
Dr. Lauren Gresham is a naturopathic physician and a community health education specialist. Learn more about her by visiting www.totallylovablenaturopathic.com.