Category Archives: Fruit

Foraging Wild Fruit: Black Huckleberry

Photo of Black Huckleberry

When it comes to fresh summer fruit, I prefer pick-your-own, wild-style. You can't pick Black Huckleberries (Gaylussacia baccata) by the pound at your local farm, but the species grows wild throughout New England and offers berries free to those who know where these shrubs grow. Shaded forests can be filled with these short, leafy plants, but when growing in dense shade, they rarely fruit heavily.  To find lots of fruit, you'll need to look in sunny forest openings and dry fields.

Black Huckleberries have five calyx lobes (which form a sort of star-shaped belly button) and are usually black and shiny, though I've also found blue berries covered in a light bloom (the latter type might be confused with the related Blue Huckleberry). Whether black or blue, they can be separated from blueberries (Vaccinium sp.) by their crunchy-seeds, unique flavor, and their leaves, which are coated with orange resin dots.*

Photo of Black Huckleberry handful

Take care not to confuse Black Huckleberries with the purgative fruit of Glossy False Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) or European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), and, as always, only consume wild foods that you can positively identify as edible.

*Magnification and adequate lighting may be required to observe the orange resin.

Foraging Wild Fruit: Black Highbush Blueberry

Photo of Black Highbush Blueberry

Not all blueberries are alike. In fact, not all blueberries are blue. While out looking for Black Raspberries last week, I bumped into Black Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum). Fruit color and the absence of bloom on the berries are two clues which separate this species from the more well-known Highbush Blueberry (V. corymbosum). V. fuscatum flowers a week or two earlier than V. corymbosum, and, if this year is representative, the earlier flowering leads to earlier fruiting. Ripe fruit of either shrub are a forager's welcome surprise.

Foraging Wild Fruit: Mulberry

Photo of Mulberry fruit

By the end of June here in New England, Mulberry (Morus sp.) trees are busy ripening fruit to feed birds and mammals alike. Last week, Kate St. John of Pennsylvania wrote of Mulberry's prolific nature and the tendency of planted trees to drop squishable fruit along walking paths (see Mulberries Underfoot).  Several years ago, I found my first Mulberry crop with my shoes.  If you happen to notice mushy berries underfoot, look up. Ripe fruit varies in color depending on the particular kind of Mulberry you find, ranging from light pink to dark purplish-black.  Regardless of type, Mulberries are ripe when they are plump, juicy, and fall easily from the tree.

Subshrub ID: Eastern Spicy-wintergreen

Photo of Eastern Spicy Wintergreen

Eastern Spicy-wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is an evergreen subshrub of the forest floor. The plant's leathery leaves grow clustered on short upright stems. The red, pea-sized fruit dangles from the center in bunches or singly, as is the case above. The fruit is edible, if a bit mealy, with a minty flavor. The leaves, when chopped up and steeped as a tea, or simply nibbled, release a similarly pleasant flavor. Other common names for Gaultheria procumbens include Checkerberry, Teaberry, and Spiceberry. This subshrub can be distinguished from Partridge-berry in that the latter features smaller, oppositely-arranged leaves and fruit with a distinct pair of "eyes".