Picking Berries In Washington
Here in the Pacific Northwest we enjoy almost year round foraging options, with dozens of varieties of edible plants, mushrooms, and my favorite- berries! Washington berry picking season is fun, educational, and tasty!
The first wild berry to come out in Washington is the Salmonberry. This berry gets its name from its salmon-egg resemblance. The taste is a sweet, a bit seedy, and has a mouthwatering effect on any hungry passers-by. The colors come in a variety of yellow, orange, red, and when unripe, lime green. They taste best in about mid-June.
Thimbleberries are pretty easy to spot as they tend to grow on edges of clearings or roadsides and look so much like raspberries, but are a little smaller and have a soft, velvety texture. They fall easily off the plant and have a lovely sweet and slightly tart taste.
One of the most common wild berries of Washington State is the Himalayan Wild Blackberries. Sadly, this is not a native plant; Luther Burbank introduced it in the 1890’s and although other experiments like the Russet Potato or Shasta Daisy worked out, this one turned out to be VERY invasive and destructive to our area. I think the sweet black fruits on each of the plants makes up for it! This plant has clusters of three leaves on a branch, with small sharp spikes on the underside of each leaf. The berries have no poisonous lookalikes, unlike many other fruits and berries in Washington State. These juicy fruits taste best in July and August, and can be consumed raw, made into jam, or any other sweet treats you want.
You might not know it, but Wild Huckleberries are everywhere! You have to keep a keen eye out though because there are so many different types. The most common are the Red Huckleberry, and the Blue Huckleberry, which tastes and looks just like a Wild Blueberry, but there are also the Evergreen Huckleberry, and High Bush Huckleberry. You can find them mostly in the shade on old growth stumps. These berries were a staple for natives and are high in vitamin C and minerals like manganese. The Red Huckleberry has a pinkish red tinge and they are smooth and round and is the easiest to spot. The fruit tends to ripen July to August and has a tart and lightly sweet flavor as the berries pop in your mouth.
The Oregon Grape is quite sour, and is a sort of baby-blue. They do not taste or look much like actual grapes. The leaves look a bit like holly leaves and are very sharp. This berry is slightly sour, and don’t eat too much as they can be toxic in high quantities. This is a very important plant for our area as the expansive root systems work well keeping the loose, humus soil together on slopes while trees try to establish.
Salal berries ripen August to September and are dark blue, slightly hairy, and are on low growing leathery leafed bushes. The taste is a bit mealy, but can make great jam or fruit leather. Another edible berry is Black Nightshade, but you have to be EXTREMLY careful about eating this berry because the green, and unripe ones are highly toxic. Also, it had a deadly lookalike, the Deadly Nightshade. Deadly Nightshade is easily recognized by its dull, green leaves and bell shaped purple flowers. Just two to four berries can kill a child, and ten to fifteen to slaughter an adult.
It is pretty easy to learn about and identify the edible berries in the Pacific Northwest, so if you’re visiting in the summer, be sure to do a little research or pick up a book on our native edible plants. It is a great family activity and kids love learning about things they can eat! They won’t even know it’s educational and that they’re learning a skill that will last a lifetime.