When and where of Alaska berries

Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2002

This time of year the questions regarding fish fade to inquiries about berries, especially when and where to pick. Sources may vary on when to pick the different berries. The sources I am citing from are two Cooperative Extension publications -- "Wild Edible and Poisonous Plants of Alaska" and "Collecting and Using Alaska's Wild Berries."

There are many species of blueberries in Alaska. Alaska blueberries have a reddish-black to blue-black color and are found in the thickets on the woody slopes in Southeast Alaska and north and west to Seward. They grow on a tall shrub with stout reddish twigs. Bog berries grow on a shrub up to 2-feet high that is common to the tundra of Interior and Southcentral Alaska. The berries are blue-black with a bloom. The dwarf blueberry has blue colored berries with a whitish bloom and is found in Southcentral Alaska.

Blueberries are available in late summer and fall. In some areas, where the cold sets in rapidly, the berries persist on the bushes throughout the winter and can be picked and used before they are thawed.

Currants grow on the Kenai Peninsula, as well. They are red, translucent berries found on the straggly, unarmed, brown branches of shrubs. Currants are available in late summer and fall. Currants can be found widely in cool woods, swamps and sub-alpine ravines.

Highbush cranberries grow in cool woods and thickets or on gravely or rocky banks. The fruit is available in late summer and fall, it softens after the first frost. If picked before the first frost, just before the true ripe stage, the fruit is more acid and of bitter flavor. The fruit is a red or orange color.

Lingonberries also are known as lowbush cranberries. They are found in woods, thickets, mountain slopes and tundra. The berries are usually available in quantity in the late fall and should be picked preferably after the first frost. The berries persist on the plant throughout the winter. Pick ripe but firm berries for the best flavor. The ripe fruit is deep red and similar in appearance to the commercial cranberry.

Raspberries are found along roadsides, forest edges and openings. Trailing raspberries are found in mossy areas on the damp forest floor. Wild raspberries look like domestic red raspberries and are used in the same ways. Collect raspberries in the summer and early fall. A ripe raspberry is deep red, firm but soft, juicy but not mushy.

Rose hips are the bright red fruit of the wild rose bush. The fruit called "hips," is smooth and somewhat round. The wild rose shrub grows in thickets and rocky slopes. Rose hips are collected in the fall, preferably after the first frost when they are still firm but red and ripe, although they can be collected anytime from August through winter in most places. The hips should be soft and ripe. The riper they are, the sweeter they are. The stem, blossom end, and seeds of the rose hip should be removed before they are consumed. The hairs surrounding the seed can cause intestinal irritation.

Be sure you can positively identify the berry you pick and eat. It is as important to know what not to eat as it is to know what to eat.

For a copy of Extension publications regarding berries, contact the Cooperative Extension Service office in Soldotna.

Linda Tannehill is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension Office. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs. The Kenai Peninsula District Extension Office is at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, AK. The phone number is 262-5824 or toll-free at (800) 478-5824.

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