Not that long ago, I was a simpleton when it came to my knowledge of and experience with berries. Like most people I know who can only name 3 – 4 types of berries: strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. I was content to think of berries as finger food that frankly could be hit or miss. Lets face it, if they pucker you up, they aren’t that enjoyable as a snack item. I have puckered up as often as I have smiled eating berries. So, other than the occasional smoothie or fruit pop, I really didn’t give them much thought. Suffice it to say, my knowledge has increased, my paradigm has shifted, and I now see things berry differently.
My learning curve about berries accelerated recently when I invited a foraging expert out to walk my property. Bushes that I would have certainly mowed down for disrupting my pasture turned out to be mature and productive berry plants that I had never heard of. Plus, some of the berry varieties turned out to useful and even prized as medicine for common and serious conditions. So, now that I was aware of their presence and potential usefulness, I began to research each of them in earnest.
I didn’t know that there were so many ways to use berries or that even the cast-off quality berries have value. I am no expert (yet) but I have been challenged to not overlook the value of fruit bearing scrubs and trees, but rather to carefully look for the right way to optimize the value of these amazing plants.
A few lessons I’ve gleaned so far:
Berries don’t have to fit the image of what you see in the store (perfectly ripe, plump, and or bug-free) to be very useful.
Over-ripe berries might be ideal for juicing, jelly, fruit leather, flavoring something fermented like kombucha, yogurt, or kefir, or even making wine. Under-ripe berries may be ideal for making tea, cider, jelly, or compote. Bug infested berries are excellent as food for various birds (chickens, guineas, turkeys, etc)
The varieties you haven’t heard of may be more useful, desirable, and/or profitable than the familiar berries.
Autumn berries are prolific, nutritious, and can grow in poor soil. They have medicinal value that has been validated in large scale studies and as a supplement they fetch a good price.
Sumac berries and Elder berries grow in easy to harvest clumps and the plants present without thorns. From lemonade type drinks rich in vitamin c to jelly and wine, the berries are versatile and store well when properly processed.
Many people think that dew berries are tastier than blackberries (I concur) and they are easier to harvest for sure. Huckleberries are not as well known as blue berries but they deserve a place of honor alongside them.
I could go on to discuss the virtues of Hawthorne berries, black raspberries, cactus berries, mulberries and others but I think you get the general idea.
There are lots of berries out there worthy of identification, propagation, and utilization. Also, there are many more interesting uses of berries than just finger food and smoothy fodder. Look around in your yard and when walking in the woods.
Be curious and do your homework. I think you’ll find it worth your time.
As an outdoor or health food enthusiast you may find great sources of nutrition, flavor, and value free for the foraging. As a prepper, you may find some native plants that can supplement your food storage. As a homesteader, you may find something that fits nicely into your long term food production or which can save you some money on feeding your animals.
I’m glad I am learning to think berry differently, renewing my mind to think more in line with what God told Adam in the garden has been a rewarding experience.
Gen 1:30 “And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.”