Wilderness Survival: Edible Wild Berries

June 6, 2016:
By George Hart,

There are many reasons why so many people love edible wild berries with an abundant amount growing in the Pacific Northwest. Edible wild berries come in many colors, flavors, and shapes. 

Berries are very nutritious containing vital nutrients important in maintaining our health. Blueberries and huckleberries contain vitamins A, C & E and small amounts of iron, copper, potassium and calcium. Cranberries are high in vitamin C and fiber. Wild berries added to any meal add a beautiful color for presentation and flavor.

In a survival situation, keep in mind that edible wild berries are not enough to keep you going for an extended period of time. They provide vitamins and a boost of sugar for quick energy. It is important to get foods that are richer in fats during an extended survival situation. Gathering and eating berries keeps your physical energy up and boosts moral. To keep your body nourished, include fatty foods like nuts, seeds, and wild meats.

Outside of those benefits, this gives you a chance to step back into nature. The experience of eating wild edibles connects you to nature in a very powerful way. You can become one with nature by slowing down from the fast paced modern technological world. Develop a relationship with nature and wild edible plants. This will bring a better meaning to life. Your body, heart, mind, and spirit with have a greater meaning to it once that connection is made with nature and wild edible plants. One of the greatest things that you can do for yourself is to find that deep connection with nature. It is a most indescribable feeling!

Edible wild berries can be found in the wild, forested mountains to the suburban and rural areas. Forested areas throughout the Pacific Northwest are home to huckleberries. If you are ever in any forests or woodlands, you may find some wild strawberries. A few species of the wild strawberry grow along coastal dunes.

Be sure to gather your berries from clean and pollution free locations. Roadsides or industrial areas tend to contaminate them with pollutants, so do not gather berries from these locations. Wild berries grow all over America. You can find a variety of wild berries down low on bushes and vines that creep along the ground. A berry bush will have thorns that are meant to ward off those intending to eat it. Full sun is best for wild berry growth. If a berries roots are in the shade, it will extend as far out into the sun as possible. It will also have long flowering branches. When identifying wild edible berries, search from ground level to eye level. Check all low lying trees. Many familiar berries grow in creeper and bush forms.

There are poisonous berries out there. Be sure that you can identify the poisonous berries. Do not harvest or eat anything that you cannot identify positively. Use a field guide. Your field guide should have names, descriptions, and pictures of the various berries. If you are in any doubt, do not eat it!

When the time is right and the berries are ripe, it is time to harvest. The colors of the berries will be vivid and bold. Depending on the berry, some will look dark in color and matured. Berries will separate from the plant easier than normal when berries are ripe and at their peak. This is the time that the berries exude the best flavor and are the fullest and most robust. Remember to look up due to some berries hanging from vines. The scent of the edible wild berries can be overpowering. The fragrance will hang in the air giving away their location.

There are a few berries that need caution when harvesting from the plant. This is so that you don’t bruise or smash them while in transport in your basket. Some wild berries have a thicker skin preventing these challenges. Over time, you will be able to harvest from plants with a positive guarantee. The best seasons for identifying and harvesting is in the summer and fall. You can also harvest and identify during winter and spring seasons.

Remove leaves, vines, and debris. When cleaning your harvest, rinse them or soak them. After a while, everything from identifying to harvesting and gathering will come natural.

There are many ways of preserving berries. They can be cooked, dried, or frozen. To make jams and jellies, you would cook them. Dry out the berries for making dried or dehydrated fruit. You can freeze them for ice creams or smoothies. You can even ferment them and make some homemade wine.

When you freeze berries, the nutrients are trapped. This helps extend the life of your harvest. The best method for this is to put them on a cookie sheet. Make sure to place them apart so as not to touch. Put them in a plastic bag with a one-year expiration date.

HINT: A good way to retain the color of the berry, add one or two teaspoons of lemon juice before freezing.

The best part of it all is being able to taste your wild harvest. Some plants are better enjoyed by themselves. Others need to be mixed with other plants. While some are only used as an edible, others are medicinal, some are both. As your experience increases and you get to know your plants and berries, you will also be able to learn the properties of them.

Once you are ready to partake of your harvest, thank nature for allowing you to partake of it. Show your gratitude for it. Remember your hike, their home, and the way you felt after you spoke with nature. By speaking with, listening to, and giving thanks creates a wonderful connection. Natures system of giving and receiving, life and death now includes you! -Below is a list of common wild edible berries with some helpful information to assist you with identification of a few. 

Color: Red to purple-black, round to oval in shape.
Location: These thrive across the United States and Canada.
Season: Mid-June to mid-August, summer to early fall.

Mourning Warbler with Wild Blackberries 
Color: Dark purple and plump. Location: East and Northwest United States.
Season/Appearance: Abundance of white to pink flowers bloom in spring. The fruit appears during summer to fall. Blackberries arrive two weeks later than raspberries do.

Color: May be red, blue, or black. Location: in the Pacific Northwest, mountains of Idaho and Montana.
Season: Flowers in spring, berries in summer.
Appearance: These are a highbush variety that grows on six-to 20-foot. They are woody-stemmed, evenly rounded bushes. There are lowbush varieties that grow on dense creepers along the ground. Can grow up to two-feet high. Has white, bell-shaped flowers in springtime. Round, blue fruits often look like it is dusted with white powder will appear in summertime.

Color: They are light blue in color when ripe. When not ripe, they are green.
Location: Native on the west coast of North America, from British Columbia to California.
Season: Flowers bloom June to July, fruits appear late Summer into fall.
Appearance: Flowers bloom in a six-inch or so diameter spray of dozens of white blossoms (called "elder blow," they are delicious dipped in a light egg batter and fried in butter to make fritters), followed by a multitude of small dark red-purple berries in summer.

Wild Cherries: Black Cherry and (Red) Chokecherry 
Color: Small (quarter-inch) round, Red or blue-black berries in sprays on low trees. Young trees of dark-fruited black cherry have a shiny, reddish bark with shallow pits. Snapped twigs have the characteristic "wild cherry" odor. Fruits are small, juicy, round cherries born along lengthy stems at ends of branches. Chokecherry fruit grows similarly but is bright red to purple.
Location: Black cherry is a widespread native tree found throughout the East, from Florida north to Quebec, west to Arizona and North Dakota.
Season: Cherry blossoms bloom in spring; fruit grows in summer and often holds on the tree till fall.

Color: Initially white, but turns deep red when fully ripe.
Location: Grown in the northern part of the United States. New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. The Canadian provinces of Quebec and British Columbia. Acid soils and bogs of upper Northeast; mountain cranberry found in similar areas all across far North.
Season: Ripens in fall, often stays on plant over winter.

Serviceberries (Juneberries) 
Color/Location: The blue or Saskatoon serviceberry of the Northwest and the red or downy serviceberry of the East are both dark red to purple.
Location: Serviceberries grow on small to 20-foot trees that like well-watered ground, often beside streams.
Season: Showy white to pink flowers appear in spring; fruit ripen mid-to late-summer.

Wild Strawberries 
Color/Season: Small flowers with yellow centers and five white petals appear in early spring. Fruit will ripen in color from green to white to pink to red in June.
Location: Grows naturally throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere. Fields and meadows everywhere that birds drop seed. Uncommon wood strawberry likes shade and is larger than common variety and not as tasty.
Appearance: The wild strawberry is a tiny version of the domesticated varieties. It can be more fragrant and sweeter Leaves have three leaflets with serrated edges that are dull, not shiny like three-leaved poison ivy.

Evergreens, Junipers and Yew 
Color/Appearance: Red or blue berries growing along branches of evergreen (needled) trees or shrubs. American yew produces attractive, urn-shaped red fruit with a sweet pulp and poison seeds. Western junipers produce dusty blue fruit that look like blueberries.
Location: Yew is a common foundation plant that can be spread anywhere. Junipers grow in California and in portions of the Mountain West. Season: Summer to early winter.

Mock Berries (Edible)