Over 200 species of small, fleshy, wild fruits occur in Canada. Most people consider them all "berries" but, technically, they are classed in different categories, including drupes (eg, cherries, elderberries), pomes (e.g., saskatoon berries), true berries (e.g.
Over 200 species of small, fleshy, wild fruits occur in Canada. Most people consider them all "berries" but, technically, they are classed in different categories, including drupes (eg, cherries, elderberries), pomes (e.g., saskatoon berries), true berries (e.g., gooseberries, blueberries) and aggregate fruits (e.g., raspberries, strawberries). Here "berry" is used in its less technical connotation.
Some berries are poisonous; some are of doubtful edibility or unpalatable. No rules exist for distinguishing poisonous from edible types. People wishing to harvest wild berries must familiarize themselves with species in their area and learn how to prepare them.
Almost all edible species in Canada are used by indigenous peoples. In the past, many were dried or preserved in water or oil for off-season use. Today, wild berries still add variety to their diet and, because many are rich in vitamins and minerals, they also play a vital nutritional role. European settlers also valued wild berries, using them for desserts, confections, preserves, juices and wines. Canadians still enjoy using them, often preferring their flavour to that of commercial types. The following are favourite Canadian wild berries.
Blackberries (genus Rubus, rose family, Rosaceae); over 12 species occur in woods and clearings, mainly in eastern provinces and southern BC. They are choice fruits, raw or cooked, making excellent pies, jams, jellies and wines.
Blueberries, Bilberries, Huckleberries
Blueberries, bilberries, huckleberries (genus Vaccinium, heath family, Ericaceae); some 18 species, including bog cranberries (discussed separately), occur in Canada. All are shrubs, with edible fruits which vary in colour from red through blue to black. Cultivated varieties have been developed from wild species.
Buffaloberries (genus Shepherdia, oleaster family, Elaeagnaceae); silver buffaloberry (S. argentea) and russet buffaloberry or soapberry (S. canadensis) are deciduous shrubs with small, reddish orange fruits. In Canada, the former grows mainly on the PrairiesS, the latter from coast to coast. Fruits are bitter but good in jelly; those of S. argentea were used by native people to flavour buffalo meat. BC aboriginals whip soapberries with water to make a favourite confection.
Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana, rose family, Rosaceae), shrubs or small trees, which occur across southern Canada, northwards to the YT. Fruits, ranging from red to black, grow in long clusters. They have large stones and can be astringent, but are excellent in jellies, juices or syrups. Six other species of Prunus (4 cherries and 2 plums) are native to Canada.
Cranberries (genus Vaccinium, heath family, Ericaceae), low, vinelike perennials growing in MUSKEG and PEAT bogs. Three or 4 closely related species are identified, one of which is the forerunner of the cultivated cranberry. Berries are tart but good in sauces and desserts. Lowbush cranberry or lingonberry, (V. vitis-idaea) is related, but has smaller, clustered berries. Highbush cranberries (Viburnum opulus, and V. edule, honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae) are tall shrubs with tart, clustered fruits.
Currants (genus Ribes, Saxifragaceae family, gooseberry subfamily, Grossularioideae); some 14 species are found in Canada, many of which resemble garden varieties and are used similarly. Fruits range from red to bluish to black. Currants lack spines or prickles and are thus distinguished from gooseberries.
Gooseberries (genus Ribes, Saxifragaceae family, gooseberry subfamily, Grossularioideae), spiny or prickly shrubs related to currants. Gooseberries occur almost everywhere in Canada except the Far North. At least 12 species are found. The reddish to dark purple berries are tart and, like their cultivated relatives, are best in jellies and preserves.
Raspberries (Rubus idaeus or R. strigosus, rose family, Rosaceae); found in woods and clearings from Newfoundland to BC and in the territories, wild raspberry was used to develop cultivated varieties. Relatives of raspberry include black raspberry (R. occidentalis), blackcap (R. occidentalis leucodermis), cloudberry (R. chamaemorus), arctic raspberry (R. arcticus), thimbleberry (R. odoratus, R. parviflorus) and salmonberry (R. spectabilis).
Salal (Gaultheria shallon, heath family, Ericaceae), an evergreen shrub, restricted mainly to coastal BC. Salal has clustered berrylike fruits which, mashed and dried for winter storage, were, and still are, a major Northwest Coast aboriginal food. Four other species of Gaultheria occur in Canada.
Saskatoon berry (Amelanchier alnifolia, rose family, Rosaceae), a deciduous shrub that grows from western Ontario to BC and the YT. The city of Saskatoon takes its name from a Cree word for the sweet, fleshy fruits, which were of prime importance to aboriginal peoples and early settlers. On the prairies, saskatoons were a major constituent of PEMMICAN. They are still enjoyed and plant breeders are developing varieties for commercial production. Some 15 related species, all with edible fruits, occur in Canada.
Strawberries (genus Fragaria, rose family, Rosaceae); 3 species are native to Canada, growing in woodlands, meadows, clearings and coastlines. All are herbaceous perennials with leaves in 3 parts, and they closely resemble domesticated strawberries, which were derived from 2 wild species. Despite their softness and small size, their delicate flavour makes wild strawberries a favourite. See alsoBERRIES, CULTIVATED; PLANTS, NATIVE USES.
Jennifer Bennett, ed, Berries: A Harrowsmith Gardener's Guide (1991); Adam F. Szczawinski and Nancy J. Turner, Edible Wild Fruits and Nuts of Canada (1979).