Edible Berries of the Pacific Northwest
If you're like me you have spent a lifetime walking through the outdoors, encountering berries, and because of a lack of knowledge assuming that they are all poisonous. Sure you can likely identify a blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, potentially even a Huckleberry, but beyond that you don't risk eating the mystery berry, due to fear of the outcome. This guide is meant to change that, and give you confidence in picking your way through the forest trying the berries you encounter.
All the berries listed here are perfectly suitable for consumption but with varying degrees of satisfaction and flavor. From the prized huckleberry and wild strawberry to the not so tasty Mountain Ash Berry. Read on and enjoy, and if you would like to contribute to this list shoot us a note. Special thanks to Douglas Deur and his book Pacific Northwest Foraging whos book inspired this post.
Blackberry (Himalayan Blackberry)
This menace of the Pacific Northwest is an invasive species that has taken over may of the wetter climates, choking out native plants. It’s just too bad the berries are so wonderful.
This thorny aggressively spreading shrub will take over regions with its entangled heaping growth. When left unchecked it will consume large areas of forest or meadow making them impassable to wildlife and choking out native species. It is readily found at the intersection of human and wild spaces, along highways, bounding parking lots, in backyards, and public parks. It should be removed as often as possible. The flowers come in white or pink, and turn into plump juicy blackberries loved by all wildlife including birds, various mammals, bears, and humans.
The berries are plump, juicy, and sweet. Their deep dark color and softening signals ripeness. Pick directly from the vine in sunny areas for the best flavor. Avoid picking where automobile traffic can leave deposits on plants and berries.
It’s sweet plumpness has limitless possibilities
All the typical pastries, pies, breads, and baked goods
Ice-cream, milkshakes, juices
Spreads, jams, jellies, sauces, marinades
Add to fruit salads, make glazes, etc.
Pacific Blackberry (California Blackberry, California Dewberry, Douglas Berry, Pacific Dewberry, Trailing Blackberry)
The only native blackberry in the PNW, this is a less common but more welcome species of blackberry.
A large mounding bramble spreading shrub that grows to 5 feet tall (about 2 m) but spreads to about 6 feet (2m) wide. The leaves come in 3's with toothed perimeters, flowers are white or yellow in spring and turn into the berries in summer. Sweeter than its invasive cousin the Himalayan Blackberry, these are often preferred by those with a discerning taste. They grow on forest edges, or in disturbed ground like logged land.
Similar to traditional blackberries but slightly firmer with less juice.
Pluck individually from the vine
The new green shoots can be harvested and eaten raw or cooked
The berries go well in pastries, pies, muffins
Eaten fresh from the vine
Jams, jellies, sauces
Use as toppings, or in fruit salads
Flavor deserts and beverages
Black Hawthorn Berry:
A tart berry that grows on a formidable thorny bush on the western side of the Cascades. The berries are best used in sauces, beverages, and spreads.
Found in abundance in clearings and thicket margins on the wetter western side of the Cascades and Coast Ranges into Canada. The Black Hawthorn is a thorny shrub, with serrated leaves. It grows 20 to 30 feet tall.
In spring dense clusters of white flowers form, and develop into the purple or black berries roughly a half inch in diameter. The fruits are edible but tart and dry with large seeds.
Can be eaten raw, but tartness steers most away.
Add color and kick to sauces, drinks, and spreads.
Great for jams and jellies.
Vaccinium alaskaense, - Alaska Blueberry, Vaccinium ovalifolium- oval leaf blueberry
Wild blueberry can be stumbled upon in the higher elevations and is a rare treat among explorers and hikers.
Similar to the blueberries you find in the store, the Pacific Northwest has a population of wild blueberries that are similar in form and state to the farm grown variety you’re used to. Partial to old growth, or original growth forest they enjoy filtered light. The oval green leafed deciduous plants grow up to 5 feet tall (1.5m).
Look just like all blueberries
Jams, Jellies, Pies, topping, you know the story
Bunchberry Dogwood (Dwarf Cornel)
A dwarf dogwood, the smallest of the genus, is a ground covering shrub with vibrant green pointy leaves and white flowers, before they turn into red berries.
At only 4 to 8 inches (10 - 20 cm) tall this perennial herb makes great ornamental ground cover. The leaves are oval with pointy tips with veins running parallel to the leaf length. White flowers form at the center of leaf clusters, that later turn to bright red berries. It likes moist environments rich in organic matter such as bogs and wet forest floors in shaded filtered light.
Clusters of berries form at the center of leaf clusters, they are not appetizing but edible. Larger softer fruits signal ripeness.
Berries are not super appetizing so are often mixed with other berries
Often cooked into jams,
Found growing from sphagnum patches in the bogs and wetlands of Oregon and Washington, it is a true cranberry in design and taste.
A creeping plant of the heath family, found in wet bogs. Vine like stems with lance shaped leathery leaves measure about a centimeter long. Pink flowers form that develop in summer, varying by climate and site specifics. The habitat is generally delicate so tread lightly.
About half inch (1.2 cm) in diameter, pink or red in color and look like the typical image of a cranberry.
Can be eaten raw or dried
Baked in breads, and muffins
Best accompanied by sweeter accoutrements
Chokecherry (Bitter Cherry, Bird Cherry)
Closely related to the Black Cherry this perennial shrub or tree has, less tasty bitter fruit.
A shrub or tree that grows from three to 20 feet tall (1- 6 m) with reddish brown, often scaly, bark streaked with white bands. The leaves are pointed and finely serrated ranging from 1 to 3 (2.5 to 9 cm) inches in length. Large clusters of white flowers (racemes) develop in late spring measuring one to four inches long ( 4 to 10 cm). Chokecherry grow in moist areas like next to streams and rivers
Berries form from the racemes and are therefore also clustered. The appear from vibrant red to almost black form in early summer months.
Bitter flavor begs for mixing and sweeting
Jams and Pies
Coastal Black Currant (Coastal Black Gooseberry, Spreading Gooseberry)
As the name suggests, this shrub is found in the wetter temperate forests near the coast. Berries are of the few that can be eaten raw without much augmentation.
The deciduous shrub can grow up to about 10 ft (3 m) tall with thorny branches and the leaves are lobular maple like, or palmate shape, with fuzzy underbelly. Flowers form in small hanging clusters (inflorescence) in red, pink, or purple. Found in coastal, or damp forests, often in rocky areas.
The flower clusters will form into berry clusters that turn black and plump when ripe.
Good eating fresh from the shrub
Good dried and mixed with nuts
Good in baked goods, and pies
Experiment with juice in drinks and cocktails
Prickly Currant (Black Gooseberry, Swamp Currant, Swamp Gooseberry)
A member of the Ribes genus which contains 120 world wide species including currant and gooseberry.
This deciduous shrub grows erect spreading from 1 to 6 feet. (.5 to 2m), it’s defensive thorns can be dense and formidable. The leaves, about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter, are shaped, in general like a maple, but with deep serrations or lobes instead of crisp edges. They prefer wet landscapes along streams, lakes, wetlands, or bogs with rich humous soil, or wooded environments rich in organic matter. Small white, flowers develop in limited bunches that mature into dark berries. This plant can be considered invasive in certain environments, for instance it is prohibited in Michigan.
The berries take on an appearance of ripe, before tasting as such. Prickles Currant is a tasty berry, if it tastes otherwise it likely isn’t fully ripened yet. Seek the biggest softest berries.
Great in jams, jellies, and sauces
Liqueurs and whines are made from them
Great in pastries and other baked goods
A member of the ribes genus which contains 120 world wide species including currant and gooseberry.
Unlike the prickly currant the Red is a smaller thornless shrub. Growing 3 to 5 feet (1.5 to 2m) tall, with three lobed leaves with serrated edges. A hardy plant that grows across the PNW, up into Alaska and Canada. Purplish flowers form in spring that develop into bright red berries.
Tart 1/2 inch (12mm) berries form in spring. Pick individually or rake of branches. Can taste closer to cranberries than its cousins.
James, Jellies, Sauces
Wines, and drink flavoring
Baked goods such as pies and pastries
Stink Currant (Skunk Currant, Blue Currant, Grayberry)
No Picture available
Don’t let the skunky smell of this plant deter you from the sweet berries.
Loving the wet coastal environment and stream beds where moisture stink currant likes it damp. Large serrated maple like leaves grow as big or bigger than your hand. When kicked, or crushed the leaves give off a foul skunk like smell. The shrub can grow from 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3+ meters) tall. White flowers form along a central stem turning into dangling berries by summer.
Blue or dusty blue they are sweet and delicious when ripe
Taste varies by plant and environment so don’t give up on a bad bush
Best cooked into jams, jellies, syrups, baked goods, pastries
There are two common species of elderberry in the PNW, Red and Blue. Both can be found throughout the region and the tasty fruits are wonderful, though lesser known than others such as huckleberry. In general avoid eating the red ones. If you do, be sure to cook first.
Elders can be found throughout the PNW the blue, in the drier climates and mountain regions, while Red grow in wetter lower climates. Generally its form is that of a small tree 5 to 20 feet (2.5 - 7 m) tall, leaves are lance shape and come in pinnate clusters of 5 to 9 leaves ranging from two to eleven inches in length (5-30 cm). Flowers form in flat clusters that develop into berry clusters.
High in vitamin B6 and iron
Berries can be blue or red, red should be avoided unless cooked
A softening of the berries signals ripeness, but you must beat the birds
You can pick, rake, or shake the berries from the trees
Traditionally they have been used to make dyes
Mix into berry medley
Bake into breads, muffins, cakes, pies
Dry and crush to sprinkle over ice creams a sweetener
Make into jams and jellies, and Elderberry Syrup
Flavor ice cream
Add to salads
Flowers can also be eaten in salads
Flowers can be dipped in batter and fried
Check out this recipe for Elderberry Sauce
Gooseberry (Sticky Gooseberry, Gummy Gooseberry, Fuchsia-flowered Gooseberry, Red-flowered Gooseberry)
Widely used in gardening for its fuchsia like flowers, it is a beautiful ornamental shrub with the bonus of berries.
Widely cherished for its flowers and often called the fuchsia flowering gooseberry because of the resemblance of the flowers to fuchsia. The shrub grows from 18 inches to about 3 feet (.5 to 1m) tall. It is deciduous, shade intolerant, perennial. The leaves measure about 1/2 to 1 inch (12 to 16 mm) in diameter are ovate, toothed and have 3 to 5 rounded lobes. It can be found near dry stream beds, rocky outcropping, forest floors, where drainage is good and altitude is low. The flowers are brilliant pendulous with red outer sepals that curl up away from the white inner petals, and long dangling anthers extend below the petals.
A dark purple or blue, less flavorful than many berries in the region, they can have rough bristles on the exterior and are somewhat sticky.
Jams, jellies, spreads, pies
Often mixed with other berries to diversify the flavor
Black (Mountain) Huckleberry
If berries were jewels, then this would be the diamond of the PNW berries. The huckleberry is, in my opinion, the tastiest native berry in the region. Indigenous people cultivated impressive and productive patches of these berries for many hundreds of years, using such methods and burning and casting throughout the Cascade range. Good productive patches can be found in thickets and under forest canopies that will fill a bucket in just a few minutes.
Found in the high altitudes of the Cascade and Coast ranges where fires have burned through. A deciduous shrub with lance like leaves and trailing stems. The leaves are finely toothed with a lighter underbelly. The shrub grows up to 6 ft tall (2m), and is often found in thickets. Flowers, with 4 to 5 petals are pink and lantern or urn shaped.
The flowers develop into deep purple and deep red (almost black) berries that resemble small blueberries. They ripen later than many PNW berries, in mid to late summer, often into the early autumn months. They are easily picked individually, though special berry rakes can also be used.
In the small mountain towns of the Pacific Northwest you will find the berries in many delicacies including pies, ice cream, and jams and jellies though the berries need no help as they are delicious on their own.
Bog Huckleberry (Bog Blueberries):
Cousins to the Black (Mountain) Huckleberries they are equally sweet and desirable.
At three to 9 feet tall (3m), this is a lower growing deciduous shrub than its cousin. Found in the margins of wet lands, or bogs, occasionally around mountain lakes. Brown stems with light green oval leaves up to 1 inch (30 mm) long. Small pink flowers form in spring and early summer that develop into the berries.
Dark purple, dark blue, even black berries form. Similar in shape and size to Black Huckleberry. Pick one by one, or raking from the shrub.
Can be eaten right off the bush
Mixed with other berries into a medley
Baked goods including breads and muffins and pies
A sweet pop to ice cream
Can be frozen, dried, or canned for later use
Evergreen Huckleberry (Winter Huckleberry)
Evergreen huckleberries are a resilient lot, sticking around long into autumn and far longer than other berries in the region providing a food supply when others have dried up.
The evergreen cousin in the huckleberry family this shrub uniquely forms berries along its branches almost like they are growing from the woody stalks. The plant grows from a 1 to roughly 9 feet (.3 to 3 m) in height, with lance finely serrated green leaves measuring roughly an inch long (2.5 cm). Pink flowers develop into black or dark blue purple berries. The shrub can be found on the wet side of the Cascades all the way to the coasts along streams, lake margins, and forrest clearings. Distinctively the berries form in mid summer, but stick around long past when all other berries have disappeared. You may even find a few huckleberries in winter, if they managed to miss the birds' attention.
Similar in shape and size to other huckleberries, they are dark in color, crisp when bitten and extremely delicious.
Can be eaten right off the bush
Mixed with other berries into a medley
Baked goods including breads and muffins and pies
A sweet pop to ice creme
Can be frozen, dried, or canned for later use
No Picture Available
The most common Vaccinium in the coastal ranges of the PNW.
Found throughout the region, this deciduous shrub likes filtered light at altitudes ranging from sea level up to about 6000 feet (1800 m). It grows from 3 to 12 feet (1 to 4 m) tall, with bright green leaves measures from 1/2 to over an inch (10 to 30mm). It is one of the first shrubs to produce berries in the spring and the berries are often abundant though the summer months. Small white or pink lantern like flowers develop into red berries.
A red juicy tart berry, good off the vine, mixed with other berries
Dried it keeps well as a snack or mixed with nuts
More tart than its darker cousins it leans toward the cranberry in taste
Grows from early spring into autumn
Jams, jellies, sauces
Baked goods such as breads and pastries
Natives used the berries in fishing due to its resemblance to a salmon egg
Juniperus communis, Juniperus occidentalis
Prevalent in the high desert country east of the Cascades the juniper trees, though native, have gone unchecked by fire in recent history causing them to overpopulate and spread wildly.
The Tree and Shrub:
Juniper trees are a conifer prevalent across the high desert east of the Cascades. Its close cousin comes in a low ground cover. The foliage is made from branching twig-like subtle clusters. It smells distinctly like, well juniper or gin for those less familiar. The bark is fibrous running in vertical peal-able strips. The tree can grow up to 30 ft. (10 m) tall. A mature juniper 18 inches in diameter can “drink” up to 30 gallons of water per day. Due to lack of fires, and their massive thirst, trees are often thinned to leave much needed desert precipitation to other native growing plants.
The berries are a dusty blue and very bitter. They can be eaten raw but are not palatable to most. Berries stick around for a long time, and can be found throughout the summer. When ripe they will fall off the tree with a simple shaking of branches, place a tarp or cloth under the tree to collect.
The berries are flavorful but not typically used or consumed alone
They are widely used as the prime flavor in gin
Used to flavor other drinks and liqueurs
Can be a complimentary flavor in soups
Can season meats and vegetable casseroles
The powerful scents are popular in soaps, candles, and cosmetics
Oftentimes juniper is used in herbal medicines and poultices
Kinnikinnick has been used for hundreds of years by native people for both it’s recreational effect (mildly narcotic when smoked), and as a traditional medicine.
Kinnikinnick has long been used by Indigenous people for smoking and is said to have mild narcotic effects. It is a low creeping evergreen that spreads over its habitat along rocky outcropping, along water boundaries, an in coastal regions. The leaves are small and oval in shape, light to dark green and somewhat waxy. Pink flowers form in spring that transform into small red berries.
The berries are small and red or even pink. They form in abundance in spring, and can be eaten by mid summer, but are not as tasty as others found in the region. They can be picked individually, though because the leaves are also desirable selecting a few choice branches to harvest (without compromising the entire shrub) is a simpler method.
Berries can be used in berry medleys to mask taste
The leaves however can be dried and used in teas, smoked, or in a poultice
It contains antimicrobial properties, is a mild diuretic
Traditionally used for bladder and urinary tract infections
Mooseberry (Squashberry, Highbush Cranberry)
A berry plant that keeps it’s fruit long into winter, providing rare nutrients in the colder months.
Mooseberry is often referred to as Highbush Cranberry, or squashberry, however it is not an actual cranberry. The shrub grows from 2 to 11 feet tall (.75 to 4 m). The branches are red, with green lobed (typically 3) and serrated palmately veined leaves. The underbelly of the leaves has a fuzz or small hairs. White or yellow flowers form in clusters in spring that develop into berry clusters by early to mid summer. The plant prefers the wetter coastal climates of the Pacific Northwest.
The berries are vibrantly red, and can be picked early for ripening off the vine, or later. They sweeten with age and remain on the plant long into winter.
Let ripen over time, even keeping them hydrated to further sweeten
Can be saved long into winter for a splash of flavor and color
Can be eaten raw or cooked, and added to dishes as a pop of flavor
Great for jams, jellies, or spreads
Sorbus scopulina - western mountain ash, Sorbus sitchensis - Sitka mountain ash
This showy tree or shrub populates the Pacific Northwest and is a favorite for ornamental purposes in landscaping. It produces brilliant colors in fall.
Mountain ash trees are common across the Northwest, populating both wild and domestic landscapes. The tree grows from 10 to 30 feet (3 - 10 m) tall. It’s distinct green leaf pattern (serrated pinnately compound) make the tree easily identifiable, once you know what to look for. Similarly the Sitka mountain ash is a multi stem shrub that grows from 3 to 20 feet (1 to 7 m). White flower clusters form in spring and turn into large berry clusters of 20 to 40 per bunch in fall. This tree puts on a brilliant show in fall with vibrant, yellows and oranges.
Berry clusters of bright red can be picked
The berries are tart, and extremely palatable right from the branch
They form in late summer to early fall
A favorite among bird populations
Best sweetened in jams, jellies, juices
Dry the berries or add to baked goods
High in vitamin C, the berries are used in many herbal medicines
Mahonia aquifolium, Mahonia nervosa
The state flower of Oregon, the Oregon Grape is a medium shrub with holly like leaves. Berries are edible but not tasty.
A shrub found throughout the Cascades. There are 2 types the dull-leafed found primarily in the wetter western slopes, and the tall found in the drier eastern climates. It is a medium shrub growing from 2 to 10 feet (.75 to 3.25 m) tall. The leaves are holly like with spiny tips, pinnately compound alternately arranged on the stem. Yellow flowers turn to dark purple or blue berries about 1/4 inch (1 cm) in diameter.
Deep blue or purple with a dusty appearance, they are edible right off the vine, though they are quite sour, or dried for later consumption. The large seeds should be removed. Berries can be raked off in clusters with your fingers. High in vitamin C.
The roots, bark, and leave have an antimicrobial agent similar to golden seal.
The berries are sour but often eaten right from the plant
Dry for use in trail mixes and cereals
Popular in jams, jellies, and drink flavoring
When dried they were ground into flour by native Americans
Useful in blue dyes and paints
Osoberry (Indian Plum)
The only member of the genus oemleria, Osoberry shrubs are among the first to leaf out and produce fruit in spring, making them an early ally of indigenous people.
The Osoberry (Indian Plum) is a shrub that grows up to 15 feet tall (5 m), with oval or oblong light green leaves 2-5 inches (5 - 13 cm) and red stalks. Early foliage has a cucumber-like smell and taste. White flowers form early, even before leaves fully form, they are white pendulous about 1 cm long. The fruit forms in ovoid drips about 1/2 inch long and is popular with birds.
Ovoid about 1/2 inch long
It starts bitter but once dark purple or blue-black it becomes sweet
Often likened in taste to watermelon
Pick one at a time or in groups
Remove large pit before eating
Can be eaten fresh off the shrub
Great in jams, jellies, sauces
Complimentary to baked goods
Bark can also be used in teas
Raspberry (Red Raspberry, Wild Raspberry, Black Raspberry, Trailing Raspberry)
#raspberry #redraspberry #red raspberry# #wild raspberry# #wildraspberry #blackcap #black raspberry# #blackraspberry #trailing raspberry# #trailingraspberry #rubus #rubus idaus##rubus leucodermis# #rubus pedatus#
Rubus idacus, Rubus leucodermis, Rubus padatus
As with many of the Rubus genus the leaves, shoots, and berries are great for eating.
The raspberry is a quintessential berry of the northwest. They grow in brambles that heap and mound though not as large or imposing as the blackberry cousins. Leaves come in sets of three to five with serrated edges. They grow throughout the PNW with the 3 primary varieties listed here occupying virtually every corner of the forested region (not desert).
Depending on the genius the berries can vary from bright red (Rubus idacus, and Rubus padatus) to black (Rubus leucodermis). Like its cousins the berries are juicy and sweet. Plumpness and softness indicate ripeness and are best gathered individually.
Fresh green shoots can be plucked and eaten fresh or steamed
Leaves can be dried and made into teas
Berries are widely used in all manner of dishes
Jams, jellies, milkshakes, ice-creme, drinks
Pastries, muffins, baked goods, frostings