Episode 96 S3-15

Harvesting Wild Berries


The Walls of Freedom Ch 15

Special Guest:

Abe Lloyd

In The Walls of Freedom adventure, the Moore family is back on the move again, heading north towards safety from the federal forces. Along the way they find berries to harvest. Here to discuss his passion, harvesting wild berries, is Abe Lloyd, author of Wild Berries of Washington & Oregon.

There is nothing better than harvesting berries. It represents all the joys of summer. Berries love sunshine and water. They are sweet and tasty. Abe's personal favorite is a berry called the Thimble Berry. It is a berry that is related to the raspberry with it's bright red fruit. However, the seeds are smaller, the berry is more delicate and it is sweeter. It is so tasty that you will want to eat it right away and you should. The delicate thimble berry tends to mold quickly and is easily crushed. It becomes ripe in July and tastes wonderful on chocolate cake or in a small batch of jam. It is part of a group of berries including the raspberry and blackberry.



The service berry (Amelanchier) is a berry that is available throughout the country and grows in every state of the continental United States. Begin scouting for this berry early in the spring. Their fairly large white flower petals bloom early. The story behind the name of the service berry is that in the colder areas of the United States people used to die in the winter time. They could not be buried until the ground was thawed. A sign of the ground being thawed enough was when the service berries bloomed in early spring. It does not grow well in riparian areas as it tends to get shrouded by taller trees. It grows well in drier forested areas in canopy gaps. It also grows in rocky soil along lakes where trees can't grow. It has a complex flavor with seeds that taste like almonds inside. Traditionally this was a staple fruit and was typically dried into fruit leather.



Gooseberries and Currants are a diverse group of berries found throughout the US. Some are spiny and taste skunky or lemony. However, some are very yummy. The golden currant and spreading gooseberry are a couple examples. Another example is the wax currant. It is a smaller, sweet berry that inhabits dry steps. Its red fruit has a thick texture.



Juniper berries are also edible and are often mixed with other berries, meat or added to pemmican bars. Their flavor is too strong for many pallets. They are very aromatic with a medicinal flavor. 


I had learned in the past that the white powder on the outside of berries like juniper berries and grapes could be used to harvest yeast for breads and other uses. However, Abe points out that this white powder, called bloom or epicuticular wax, is actually produced by the plant to protect the fruit from moisture so it can last for a long time on the plant. Many fruits do grow yeast but you can gather it in greater quantities from softer fruit like blackberries, plants without bloom. The ideal time to harvest it from these berries is late in the summer after a couple of rains.


The kininik berry is the longest palindrome in the English language when spelled natively, however it is spelled many times with a "ck" at the end. It is also known as the bear berry as bears love them. It is a small mealy berry that grows in dry rocky exposures. The berry is not as juicy as many other berries but it lasts longer and mixes well with other really juicy fruits. Kininik will absorb the juice from the other berries and makes it valuable in preservation recipes. The leaves are also traditionally dried and used in pipe smoke recipes. The manzanita berry is related to kininik but it is fleshier.



The black cap raspberry is another yummy berry worth looking out for. It looks like cultivated raspberry plants but the fruit ripens to a black. It need a lot of sun and can be found in clear cuts until the trees start to block out the sun. They are very tasty. The bush grows up on its own unsupported and then the tip with nod to the side. The stem is blue/green and the plant is sometimes called the white bark raspberry because of this feature. The stem is usually covered with bloom. 


The wax leaf raspberry (Rubus glaucifolius) is similar to the black cap but it is a lower growing raspberry. The berries have fewer droplets or cells that form together. Is is not tolerant of shade and they enjoy growing in clear cuts, land slide areas and other areas where the trees don't grow.


Berries are found through out the year. For example, red huckleberries (picture from: http://northernbushcraft.com) grow early in the year. The thimble berry, raspberries and blackberries come in mid summer. Blue elderberries (picture from: http://arcadianabe.blogspot.com) ripen late summer. Lasting late into the winter, berries like the evergreen huckleberries (picture from: http://www.nwplants.com) and cranberries are still harvestable. Abe remarks that harvesting cranberries is truly a unique experience because of the specialized environment that cranberries exist in.


There is a scary side to harvesting berries as well. Some berries are poisonous and need to be avoided. There is an old adage that is sometimes told to children that most wild red berries are dangerous and shouldn't be eaten but this is false. Edible and poisonous berries come in all colors. There are some poisonous berries that are worth pointing out. The bane berry is a red berry that is very poisonous and grows in shady environments. The holly or European holly as well as the yew berry should be avoided. Poison oak  actually makes a white berry that should not be ingested. The English ivy is also on the list of avoidable berries. Abe advises listeners to trust their gut. If it tastes bad spit it out and don't eat it. The last poisonous item we discussed was the olive and how it should not be eaten off the tree. There is a special process to make them edible. 


Culture has taught us to eat certain things and avoid others. The culture of the United States tends to be more of a colonial one that is not as informed about the native options available to inhabitants of this continent. If you research the native knowledge of the wild edibles in your area you may be surprised what you find. A prime example of this over site is the lack of use of the acorn. Its processing is drastically overlooked in favor of the more labor intensive processing of items like wheat. 

Thimble berry
Service Berry
Golden, Spreading, Wax
Juniper Berry
Berries all year!
Thimble berry
Service Berry
Golden, Spreading, Wax
Juniper Berry
Berries all year!

Featured Quote From Today's Chapter:

"Turn those frowns upside down."

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Character Origins


Abe Lloyd

Abe has a passion for plants and indigenous foods that traces back deep into his childhood. His early aspirations as a botanist led him to Northland College on the south shore of Lake Superior, where he completed a Bachelor’s of Science in Natural Resource Management. Since then, research projects have taken Abe to many corners of the planet, most notably, to Nepal where he served as an ethnobotanist for the Peace Corps with Langtang National Park from 2003-2004, and then to NW Yunnan and back to Nepal, where he worked as a volunteer botanist for the Missouri Botanical Gardens monitoring vegetation changes in the alpine areas during the fall of 2009. More recently, in 2011, Abe completed a Master’s Degree in Ethnoecology at the University of Victoria under the Northwest Coast ethnobotanist, Dr. Nancy J. Turner. For his thesis research, Abe collaborated with Kwakwaka’wakw elder Kwaxsistalla (Clan Chief Adam Dick) to experimentally restore a traditional estuarine salt marsh root garden near the remote First Nation village of Kingcome Inlet on the Central Coast of British Columbia. Abe now lives in his home town of Bellingham and is an active member of the Washington Native Plant Society, the NW Mushroomers, and the Society of Ethnobiology. He is the director of Salal, the Cascadian Food Institute, an Adjunct Professor at Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College, and Royal Roads University, and actively researches, promotes, and eats the indigenous foods of this bountiful bioregion.

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Copywright © 2014 by Sara F. Hathaway.

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