Vail Today: Savor wild berry harvest with these tips | VailDaily.com

Vail Today: Savor wild berry harvest with these tips

By Tricia Swenson | Vail Today

As area gardens are revealing a bountiful harvest, don't forget about Mother Nature's natural yield of berries along Vail Valley hiking trails.

Eagle County is home to thimbleberries, serviceberries, raspberries, strawberries, huckleberries and juniper berries. These sweet treats can make delicious pies, jams and even cocktail elixirs and some have medicinal effects.

"Juniper berry tea can be used to aid digestion, stimulate appetite, treat diarrhea, reduce inflammation and a host of other holistic uses," said Peter Suneson of Walking Mountains Science Center.

Although these brightly colored fruitful gems look inviting, always remember safety first. "A good rule of thumb is to never eat anything you cannot 100 percent identify. Try small quantities at first before making a pie to make sure they don’t upset your stomach," Suneson said.

You may have trouble finding berries this time of year because bears, deer, birds and rabbits are foraging for these fruits, too.

Before hunting for berries, check with the local forest service office to determine if permits are necessary to collect berries on public lands. "In our immediate area, permits are not needed for berries if you are picking them for personal use, basically less than a gallon," said Suneson. "If you plan on picking large quantities or to produce products for resale, the Forest Service does ask you obtain a permit," said Suneson.

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Although it may be temping, don't stray off the trail to pick ripe berries. More traffic off-trail damages the forest and trails.

Even though these berries may be irresistible, remember that they are a natural supply of nutrients for wildlife in the area. "The native animals rely on these food sources and we have other options, like the grocery store," Suneson said.

To pick berries safely, stop by Walking Mountains Science Center and check out its library of resources, ask one of its naturalists or purchase a field guide. And check out today's video to learn more about berries in our area.

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