Tips for Picking Wild Berries

Learn how to successfully hunt, identify and enjoy fresh, flavorful wild berries.
By Aubrey Vaughn
March/April 2007
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Wild blueberries taste better than almost any blueberries you can buy at the store. 

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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.


Post a comment below.


9/22/2008 10:11:13 AM
Wi live in NE WI and I have wild black caps, blueberries and wild grapes in my yard. We were in door county this summer with an abundance of beautiful fruit lining every path but not sure if they were edible. Thanks for the informaion. I'll be ordering a few books from the library to be prepared for next year.

Sue Stefanich
6/29/2008 8:49:44 PM
We are lucky in our part of the northwoods of WI to also have an abundance of wild berries growing right on our property red rasberries Wild blackberries and wild strawberries I have the cutest picture of my now 8 year old son when we first moved he at age 3 sitting under the rasberry thorns pickng and eating rasberries as fast as his hands could put them in his mouth We pick wild strawberries every year and very few ever make it into the house

Joni Chester
3/14/2007 12:00:00 AM
I've never again experienced the intense flavors of the strawberries and blueberries picked in the woods of Maine as a child.Here, in the No. CA foothills of the Sierra Nevada, blackberries are - no kidding - everywhere! They're a pain (lit. & fig.) to pick, but I'd much rather do that than pay $2.99 for a 1/2 pt. (1 Cup!) at the store. Grapes, red raspberries, and black raspberries can be found fairly easily, too. People just don't realize what's in their own backyard!

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