Thursday, July 1, 2010

Berry Picking - Wild Berries in Western Washington

Right before we moved, on our last visit to Northwest Trek (love that place) I actually spent some time reading all the signs labeling the plants along the path between exhibits.  I found out that lots of the plants growing were edible and some of the signs even contained recipes on them.  Those signs got me thinking about plants that I would like to have growing around my new home.  I figure if they are native they are probably pretty easy to maintain.  Then I found that King county has a website on planting native plants and I searched for edible ones and found the nurseries in the area where you can buy them.  So I went off to Molbaks in search of wild strawberries and huckleberries.

While I didn't find the strawberry plant I was looking for I did find a huckleberry plant.  I took it home and then looked to see how I should plant it.  I learned that huckleberries like to grow in nurse logs (trees that fall down) so to grow one you need to replicate a nurse log with sawdust, bark, etc in a big mound. But then I thought that maybe it would be better to actually plant the bush in a real nurse log.

Our new house has miles of trails around it and we've been exploring them and running on them (it is wonderful).  So I kept on the lookout for a potential nurse log to guerrilla plant my huckleberry, but what I found was that we already had tons of huckleberries growing all around us.  I also saw salmonberries, raspberries (maybe), blackberries (of course), salal, and maybe some blue elderberry (for sure red elderberry but it is debatably editable).  So I kept an eye out on the berries and amazingly some of them already started to ripen.  I also went to the library and checked out The Pacific Northwest Berry Book and then I took the girls out to pick berries.

They loved it!  We've gone out almost every day the past week.  We found a real nice patch of huckleberries on the trail right behind our house.  On one trip Selena said, completely unprompted from me, "Picking berries is fun.  It is better than Halloween when we go and get candy from our neighbors."  How cute is that!  Allie has become a berry picking fiend.  She gobbles the berries faster than I can pick them and if we are lucky and find a bush that has some low berries she climbs right into the brush and snaps them off straight into her mouth.

Here is Allie stealing all the salmonberries we did manage to collect and gobbling them up before we could take them home and try to make something from them.

Allie is snagging them even when I'm trying to photograph them.

Red Huckleberries

Sorry the picture isn't that great.  I'll try to get a better one.  Red huckleberries like to grow out of nurse logs.  So sometimes the bushes can be way up high.  The bushes I have seen range from about 2 feet to 10 feet tall.  They have small red berries that progress in ripeness from white to green to pink to red.  They are supposed to be ripe from late July - October but there are some ripe ones right now.  So far all the ones I've eaten have been pretty sour, but the girls like them.  They tasted delicious in muffins.  You have to do a lot of picking to get a decent amount.


I'm a little confused on the salmonberries.  There are supposedly yellow ones and red ones.  But around here I've been seeing both on the same bush.  So I'm not sure if they are both growing on the same bush or if the berries turn from yellow to red and the yellow ones aren't really ripe yet.  The yellow ones seem pretty sour while the red ones don't seem to have a whole lot of flavor.  I've also seen some red berries on totally different looking bushes and am not sure if they are also salmonberries or if they are wild raspberries.  This article said to avoid red ones, but I have no idea why.  The berry book just said there were two different kinds.  The bushes can be really tall.  Lots of the berries have been way over my head.  The bushes don't produce a whole lot of berries.  They supposedly ripen mid July to mid August, but there seem to be some ripe ones now.  The ones I managed to hide from Allie ended up in ice cream and tasted good.


I haven't tried this one yet since the berries are just now forming.  Salal starts out with little tiny white flowers that will eventually turn into blue berries.  It is a ground covering bush so it doesn't grow very tall.  We'll be on the lookout for these when they ripen.


Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

Ah, perfect! Just my neck of the (literal) woods. And a book recommendation, too. I was just saying I really need to learn more about the local berries and plants hereabouts. Thanks!

Melodie said...

Nice! Have you tried thimble berries too? I assume they grow there since they grow here in Vancouver Island. I used to smoosh all of those up together. Yum! And I am glad to know someone in WA doesn't think all wild berries are poisonous. I dated a guy from Renton once who told me not to eat huckleberries because I could kill myself. I just gave him a strange look and wondered who he'd been talking to.

Laura said...

Yes! The thimble berries just got ripe and I love them. I had never had them before. I have pictures of them and some other berries. I just need to get them in a new post.

Jennifer said...

Yay! We are just starting our hiking season, and this is our "backyard" as well! Thanks for the book recommendation, I'm off the put it on hold at the library.

Anonymous said...

I never knew you could eat salal, we were always told not to eat it as kids, but always have had a crazy amount growing in the woods!