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The wild fruit of the Pacific Northwest offers a variety of fresh and delicious flavors. They can be used alone or combined with other fruit for a unique twist in your favorite jam, sauce or baking recipes.
Include these plants in your ‘edible forest’ or general landscape, and have a bounty that you can both enjoy and share with the birds that visit your garden! Here’s a sampling:
Rose hips are well known for their abundance of vitamin C and use in making delicious jam. Our native roses are no exception!
Recipe: Rose Hip Jam and Jelly
Perhaps the best of the native berries is the Evergreen Huckleberry (V. ovatum); not found as commonly in nurseries, the Black Huckleberry (V. membranaceum) is also really tasty; the Red Huckleberry (V. parvifolium) is sometimes found to be a little sour, but easily cultivated and still delicious with some sweetening.
Recipe: Huckleberry Muffins
These tiny berries were a staple of Pacific Northwest Indian tribes, and can be eaten fresh, cooked or dried. In addition, this small tree / tall multi-stemmed shrub is attractive with something of interest every season of the year, so is garden-worthy in its own right. The birds will be happy to enjoy the fruit, too.
Recipe: Serviceberry Pie
All three of our native strawberries (F. vesca, F. chiloensis, F. virginiana) are pleasantly edible, the latter two being two of the parents of today’s garden strawberries.In all cases the fruit is quite small, so having an abundance for a recipe might be a challenge unless you have a lot of space, but for fresh eating while out in your garden, they’re hard to beat.
Salmonberry (R. spectabilis) and Thimbleberry (R. parviflora) vary in flavor depending on the growing site. Thimbleberry has the sometimes advantage of growing in drier conditions, while Salmonberry requires moist conditions to thrive. Both are edible raw: Thimbleberries more reliably sweet; Salmonberries are sweet but sometimes bland in taste. Both are also made into jams and jellies and sauces.
Recipe: Salmonberry Jam
Both the Blue Elderberry (S. cearulea) and Red Elderberry (S. racemosa) are edible and widely used, but as there is controversy and disagreement about fresh eating, be sure to cook the fruit before eating (also note that all parts of the plant other than the fruit are highly toxic). Used for jams and jellies and baked goods – the blue elderberry can also be turned into a delicious cordial.
Recipe: Elderberry Pie
When fully ripe the berries are sweet and are often mixed with other native berries for jellies and jams. It has plenty of natural pectin for setting the jelly/jam, too.
Recipe: Salal Jelly
The plentiful fruit, quite tart when fresh, is high in vitamin C. Tasty when cooked and used like you would cranberries - in sauces, condiments, jams and jellies.
Berries tend to be tart, so are made into jellies and jams with sweeter berries (and/or lots of sugar).
Recipe: Oregon Grape Apple Jelly
Recipe: Oregon Grape Jam
Edible but tart (again, think jam, where you add lots of sugar). Raw seeds are considered toxic and should be discarded.
Also in the category of edible but tart, these fruits carry a lot of juice and natural pectin and are used to make delicious jellies and pies. Note: Though they are edible and nutritious, the seeds contain small amounts of hydrogen cyanide – usually in too small a quantity to cause harm – but please be aware that ANY extremely bitter seeds or fruit should not be eaten.
Recipe: Chokecherry Jam
Edible but with a slightly mealy texture, these berries are also high in pectin, making them a superb thickening agent for those homemade jams and jellies. They are also used in pies and tarts. Beware of the cherry-sized pit, if eating them fresh!
Recipe: Hawthorne Butter
There are many books and other references and classes to help you learn more about our native edible fruit – check your local book store or library and check out Boskey Dell Natives and the NW Native Plant Journal.
Many thanks to Gradey Proctor, who helped with facts and details, and who often includes a class in edible fruits in his native Herbal/Botany class series
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Please note that some berries will vary in flavor due to individual tastes and the site conditions – and some are downright poisonous – so only eat what you know to be edible!
We can’t stress this enough…native plants, like their non-native cousins, have look-alikes that are inedible-to-toxic. And in some cases other parts of edible fruit plants are not to be eaten.
So, even if you’re growing your own, be sure of your plants before using them as food.