Top Ten Foraged Berries in the PNW
One of the many benefits of living in the Pacific Northwest is foraging through the trees to find what edibles our many forests have to offer. Native tribes in Washington and Oregon relied on the spring and summer berry harvests for fresh meals, drying, and trading. Grocery stores today have quite a spread of berry varieties, but many of our local native berries are overlooked by the stores and are waiting for us out among the trees. Below is a list of the top ten edible treats found in the Pacific Northwest:
1. Black Huckleberry
One of the sweetest berries found in our forests is the black huckleberry. Rich in Vitamin C, this berry was a favorite of native tribes during their “First Fruits” ceremonies. Many tribes mashed black huckleberries and dried them in the sun in the form of cakes to eat in the months to come. Both the Twinleaf Black Huckleberry and the Evergreen Black Huckleberry varieties are found in our region. Shrubs are 1-2 meters tall and are found in shady, acidic soils in montane and subalpine areas.
2. Red Huckleberry
A tart alternative to the black huckleberry is our native red huckleberry. Shrubs are 1-4 meters tall, have bright green stems, and are often found growing on nurse logs and rotting stumps. Red huckleberries have a wide range of uses, from jellies to wine. They can be stored fresh, dried, or in oil. The berries often ripen in July and are found in shady, moist areas. Berries dried properly can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 12 years.
Often in large thorny thickets on forest edges, Himalayan blackberries are a delicious treat with a wide range of uses. Although the Himalayan variety is not an original Pacific Northwest native, we do have a native variety: the trailing blackberry. Trailing blackberry grows in dense “webs” along forest floors, rather than in tall thickets. Usually ripe in August, these berries are great for everything from smoothies to jams.
4. Red Currant
For all of you sour lovers, red currant is a northwest delicacy found near swamps, bogs and moist forests. Bright red, translucent berries decorate these shrubs (about waist high). These berries are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants and can be used to make tarts, pies, and jams. In many culinary uses, red currants are paired with black currant to level out the sourness.
5. Golden Currant
Varying from a dark red to golden color, golden currant berries are found on tall shrubs 6-10 feet tall. These shrubs are found mostly in either high altitude slopes or in coastal foothills. Golden currant berries are naturally high in pectin, which is very useful when making jams and jellies. Because these shrubs do not require high levels of moisture in the soil, golden currant can be found both west and east of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon.
Dark blue/black berries resembling blueberries can be found throughout our forests, both in our mountainous regions and in our coastal regions. Often overlooked as inedible because of their lack of sweetness, these underrated berries ripen in August and can be found through September. Salal berries make a great base for any fruit leather, and are high in antioxidants. The berries and leaves can also be used as a hunger suppressant!
These yellow/red berries, while being mild in flavor, are a gorgeous décor in our forests and are one of the first signs of spring. Salmonberry thickets can often be found in disturbed areas (logged regions or regions recovering after a forest fire). The berries do not dry well, so they are best eaten as a fresh snack. These woody shrubs can reach up to 10 feet tall and are found in moist areas in coastal and montane ecosystems.
From early May to late September, three varieties of strawberries can be found on forest edges and sunlit slopes throughout the Pacific Northwest. Three varieties found in our region are Wild Strawberries, Wood Strawberries, and Coastal Strawberries. Finding strawberries requires getting down on the level of the plants, since the berries are often hidden by the plant’s leaves. Once they’re picked, the berries don’t normally last longer than 24 hours in the refrigerator, so they’re best eaten fresh or used in jams and jellies same-day.
Both the thimbleberry’s sprouts and berries are edible treats! Thimbleberries are slightly neutral in flavor and high in seed content. The berries can ripen very fast – a few sunny hours can turn a hard pink unripe berry to a red, ripe state. The plants are easy to identify, with large maple-like leaves and no thorns. The leaves are often known by hikers and nature lovers to be “nature’s toilet paper” because of their soft, fuzzy texture!
These often overlooked berries are very mealy in texture and have a very mild taste. Our native variety, Black Hawthorn, can be dried, mashed into cakes, or made into jam/jelly (the berries have naturally high levels of pectin). These shrubs, towering at 20-35 feet, can be found along roadsides in montane regions. Be careful to avoid eating too many berries – they can affect heart rate and blood pressure!