Vail Daily column: Behold, bountiful berries
As summer presses on, some of nature’s sweetest treats are ripening for the picking. As with all of our interactions with nature, wild berry harvesting should be done wisely and with as little impact as possible. These berries are a delicious and nutritious staple to both humans and animals alike. A good rule of thumb is to only take what you will eat or use in the next two days, or less than 25 percent of the visible berries. Especially in populated areas such as Vail, it’s important to be conscious of our fellow creatures and let everyone enjoy these delectable delights.
The thimbleberry is a delicate treat found locally this summer. Rubus parviflorus, if you prefer the Latin, is not a true berry. Much like the raspberry, the fruit is considered to be an aggregate, meaning it is made up of a group of druplets centered on a core. These can be removed very carefully, leaving an indentation on the berry similar to a thimble shape. They begin to make their appearance in late July, notable from the fragrant smell of the berries and the flowers. Large, fuzzy, palmate leaves with white flowers give the plant away. The berries will be a bright red by the end of summer, and are best for eating straight from the plant. Due to the delicate nature of the berries, it is uncommon to find jams in the stores. However, there are some refreshingly simple homemade thimbleberry jam recipes out there. Mix one part sugar and one part berries over medium heat until boil, let cool, and enjoy on anything and everything.
More Local Berries to try
Another local berry, the chokecherry, may have an off putting name, but add a bit of sugar, and you’ve got a delicious homemade syrup right from your backyard. These plants can be quite poisonous to horses, cattle and deer due to cyanogenic glycoside in the plant’s leaves, but the fruit does not contain toxins and is commonly used to make jams, jellies or pies. A woody shrub or small tree, this plant’s dark green leaves and white cylindrical flower groups help identify this plant. Chokecherries are not recommended to eat fresh due to their bitter taste, but they are not harmful.
The serviceberry, otherwise called saskatoon, has been local to the Rocky Mountains since before the Native Americans began using it to make berry cakes. The drought resistant roots and cold resiliency make this shrub perfect for our Rocky Mountain climate. White clustered flowers begin to appear in early summer, followed by the purple-red berry later in the season. The berry has been said to have the appearance of a blueberry with the taste of apple. Much like the rest of the berry family, the serviceberry packs a nutrient punch. Very high in magnesium, iron and potassium, these can be eaten fresh or cooked. Note: Serviceberry is poisonous to livestock animals.
Disclaimer: Just because berries look edible does not make them so. It is important to know the facts before going harvesting, and especially before ingesting anything! Luckily, it is just as fun to learn how to ID these plants as it is to enjoy their fruit!
Rachel Barfield is a naturalist at Walking Mountains science Center and is excited to experience her first summer foraging in the Rocky Mountains. She wishes you the berry best in your harvesting!