Thanks to thousands of growers in Chile, Central America, Mexico and the United States, we all enjoy a wide assortment of berries (and prices, depending on the season) throughout the year. What many of us have forgotten in this abundance of choices and availability is the stunning flavor of all-natural, truly fresh berries. Fresh as in just picked, 10 or two minutes ago, perhaps by your own hand. Once you're reacquainted with these delicious, organic treats, the taste of mass-produced, far-traveled versions pales in comparison.
The good news is that varieties of wild berries grow all over North America, which means berry-picking is a fun (and yummy) adventure any of us can enjoy. To help you find berries in your area, here are a few tips for the hunt.
Check out a good field guide. Two great guides have the same title: Edible Wild Plants, A North American Field Guide by Elias and Dykeman (both Ph.D. botanists) and Edible Wild Plants by Lee Peterson, which includes Lee's excellent line drawings. Regional guides are another important resource. (See John Vivian's article, Field Guide to Wild Berries, for additional suggestions.)
Your best bet is to make the first couple expeditions with an experienced berry-picker from the area. He or she will know where to look, what to look for and what's ok to eat.
Berries like plenty of sun for growing and appear from ground level on up to eye level. Often growing in bushes or creepers, even their trees are low-growers. The edges of roads, fields and meadows often sport berries, as well as the interior of naturally occurring meadows and along ponds and river edges. You'll find that most berries are ready in the summer, though some appear in the spring and fall.
Just some of the berries found in Central and Eastern North America are blackberries, raspberries, wineberries, dewberries, huckleberries, elderberries, wild cherries, cranberries, serviceberries and barberries, among others. (See Common Wild Berries of Central and Eastern North America for an extended list, as well as picking tips and safety information.)
Finally, three important warnings for your berry-picking expedition:
Always confirm the identity of the berry before you pick or eat anything. Familiarize yourself with a good field guide. This is where a veteran berry-picker becomes an invaluable resource.
Don't pick or eat berries from areas where herbicide has recently been used. If a clean line of vegetation is dead, or growing but clearly lagging behind neighboring plants, move on and try the area again next year.
Make noise. Bears and other critters love berries, and surprising them could prove unpleasant for both of you.
Want more wild berry tips? Learn more about berry-picking, field guide resources, types of berries and more in Field Guide to Wild Berries.