In July and August, wild Blueberries (genus Vaccinium) receive a lot of attention from New Englanders. Long before I'd foraged any other wild food, I used to join my family on a walk to some swampy woods to gather Highbush Blueberries at least once each summer. It's no wonder why: blueberries are delicious, often prolific, and in many instances can be picked for free! And no matter where you live in New England, there's more than one type that can be found.
Closely related to Blueberries (also in the Ericaceae family) are the three species of Huckleberries (genus Gaylussacia), who tend to get less attention from the average wild fruit forager, but I'd argue are no less deserving of appreciation. I've written about Black, Blue, and Dwarf Huckleberry before, and I thought today would be a perfect time to post a reminder about these lesser-known, crunchy-seeded, summertime fruits.
grows in forests and fields in every state in New England
grows in similar (though sometimes wetter) habitats in CT, RI, MA, and NH
grows in bogs and fens in all but VT, though is listed as rare in NH, CT, and RI
"[... N]ature seems to provide more for us when we are willing to stop and appreciate her beauty and generosity. When we honor her gifts, we discover she offers us so much more."
--Michele Maingot Cabral, Walking Away: Waking up from the American dream (2014), p. 20
Photo caption: Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) offering edible fruits in early fall. (Check out my Wild Edibles Monthly Guide for more seasonal foraging ideas.)
At first glance, the showy pink blossoms of Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus) might be mistaken for a Rose (Rosa sp.). This shrub is in the same family (Rosaceae) as Roses, but instead of producing hips, this native produces raspberries. I met Flowering Raspberry back in late June, and when I returned in mid-August to check on the small patch, there were only two fruits ready for tasting (the first one for Jenny, and the second for me). Based on this admittedly small sample, I found the fruit to be sweet, if a bit seedy, with a slightly dry finish. I look forward to sampling a few more, as soon as I find some. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
Some species of blackberry produce thick, arching canes covered with stout prickles (see Common Blackberry), while others, like Bristly Blackberry (Rubus hispidus), get by with thinner, ground-hugging stems covered in relatively harmless bristles. The leaves of Bristly Blackberry are evergreen, somewhat shiny, and divided into three (or less commonly five) leaflets. The fruits are edible but tend to be small and slightly bitter, so I don't gather them in quantity. That said, I do find them worth sampling when I encounter them in my travels. Other common names for this woody plant include Bristly Dewberry and Swamp Dewberry. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
This weekend, I had the pleasure of finding Velvet-leaved Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides) growing alongside other Blueberry species in the understory of a mixed hardwood/conifer forest here in southern Maine.
The leaves and branchlets of this native shrub are covered in short hairs, and the tiny bud scales have pointed tips. These features can be seen with the naked eye but are worth examining with a hand lens. Tasting the fruit, I detected a slight sourness, which paired well with some of the sweeter, neighboring berries.