Wild Berries can be found almost anywhere, including parks, nature trails, mountains, meadows, and even your own backyard. Edible wild berries are high in nutrients and make an excellent snack. Although many are generally safe to eat, some can be toxic and even fatal if consumed. In this article, we will look at identifying edible wild berries and avoiding those that are poisonous.
How Do You Know What Berries You Have?
You’re probably already familiar with a wide variety of berries from your local grocery store. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries all taste delicious and look nearly identical when growing wild. The main distinction is size, as they are frequently much smaller.
Loganberries, boysenberries, marionberries, olallieberries, and dewberries are other berries that are safe to eat if you don’t have allergies. Elderberry is a berry that is easy to find and has excellent health benefits, but it cannot be eaten raw.
GUIDE TO THE FIELD
The best way to tell what kind of berries you’ve discovered is to consult a good field guide. Make sure there are plenty of high-quality, detailed color photos of the plants at various times of the year, as well as fruits and leaves from various angles.
Examine the plant’s characteristics and how the berries compare to those listed in the guide. Don’t make your decision based on just one factor; make sure you read every part of the description and that it corresponds to what you’re looking at.
The characteristics of the leaf shape, pattern, color, size, stem, growth pattern, habitat, and fruit must be positively identified.
Once you’ve identified it, you can decide whether it’s safe to eat. Before eating any fruit, always wash it in clean bottled water or take it home and clean it thoroughly.
Some people are allergic to certain berries, so to be safe, eat only a few of the fruits, and if you have no ill effects after several hours, assume everything is fine and eat some more.
NO THIRD GUESSING
Never, ever doubt whether a berry is safe to eat. For example, just because you know red strawberries and red raspberries are safe does not mean other red berries are.
If you are unsure what a berry is, it is always best to assume it is unsafe and leave it alone.
Let’s take a closer look:
1. Exterior Berry Color
Compare the color of the berry to the image in your guide.
2. Berry Color on the Inside
When you cut the berry open, what color is the inside? It can sometimes be completely different from the outside color. Compare it to your guide.
Is the berry’s shape familiar? Is it one piece, like a blueberry, or several pieces, like a blackberry or raspberry?
How does the texture feel? Is it tough, soft, juicy, or squishy? Check that the texture is consistent with the berry you think you’re looking at.
5. Quantity of Seeds
How many seeds are there in the berry? This can sometimes mean the difference between determining whether something is edible or not.
6. Seed Color
The color of the seed can range from jet black to pale tan. Check that the color of the seeds on the berry you’ve discovered matches the color in the guidebook.
7. Seed Form and Size
What shape do the seeds take? Long and lean, or round and chubby? How big are they? Large, small, or medium? Examine it out.
If you come across some tasty berries, don’t remove the plant. Remember that taking more than you need can have unintended consequences.
Berries are an important food source for birds and other wild animals, so don’t deprive them.
How Do You Spot Wild Strawberries?
The wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), also known as the scarlet strawberry, and the woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca), also known as the Hillside Strawberry, Alpine Strawberry, or European Strawberry, are the two most common types of “wild” strawberries in the United States.
They’re both adorable mini versions of the commercially grown strawberries you can buy at the grocery store. What you may not realize is that, despite their small size, they are jam-packed with super sweet flavor.
You can eat the leaves and flowers as well as the berries, and they are delicious in salads.
I’m fortunate to have some that sprout in my orchard beneath the apple trees every spring. They grow in large swaths in the wild, and once you see one, you’re likely to see many more.
Both types of wild strawberries are edible, but they are frequently confused with one another. Let’s just get that sorted out!
This is a North American native herbaceous perennial. It is a member of the Rosaceae family and uses the sun’s energy to photosynthesize and create glucose, which turns carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Strawberries sold in stores are hybrids of this little scarlet variety crossed with Fragaria chiloensis, a strawberry native to parts of South America’s western coast.
STRAWBERRY IN THE WILD WHAT TO EXPECT
A wild strawberry is easy to recognize:
They produce white flowers with five rounded petals and five sharply pointed green sepals between each petal when in bloom between April and June.
Small bracts, which are small leaflets, can be found where the flower stalk meets the stem.
They have a yellow center and range in width from 12 to 34 inches.
The leaves are oval-shaped, greeny-blue or green, and have coarsely toothed edges. The tooth at the leaf’s very tip is much smaller and does not extend as far as the teeth on either side of it.
When you turn a leaf over, you’ll notice that the underside is slightly hairy.
The leaves are approximately three inches long and one and a half inches wide. They typically form a trifoliate pattern with three leaves to a stem.
These take the place of the flowers and are globe-shaped and scarlet red. Achenes are the tiny seeds that grow on the outside of each strawberry. They can be found in shallow pits on the surface of the berry.
When they root, they, like other strawberry species, send out long runners to create new plants. Because strawberry seed germination is poor, this is how they spread.
A plant is typically one to five inches tall.
They prefer moist soils and openings on the outskirts of woodlands or forests. They’re also found on prairies and savannas. They prefer full or partial sun but can tolerate heavy shade.
They prefer rich, moist soils that are free draining and undisturbed.
Wild strawberries can be found throughout the United States and Canada, but they do not grow in Hawaii.
STRAWBERRY FROM THE WOODS
It is very similar to its cousin, but there are a few differences.
The woodland strawberry blooms in early spring, between April and June, depending on where it grows. The flower resembles the wild (scarlet) strawberry in appearance.
The central tooth at the very tip of the leaf in the woodland strawberry is either longer or at least the same length as the teeth on either side of it.
Woodland strawberries have conical fruits with the seeds protruding from the surface, as opposed to wild strawberries, which have rounded berries with the seeds embedded.
Woodland strawberries prefer a wetter environment than wild strawberries. They thrive in rocky woodlands, along streams and ditches, and on damp ledges. It requires less sunlight than wild strawberries and is frequently found in partial or even complete shade.
Except for Alaska, Nevada, and parts of the southwestern states from East Kansas to Florida, woodland strawberries can be found in every state in the United States. They are also found in Canada’s southern provinces.
How Do You Spot Wild Blackberries?
There are no poisonous blackberry substitutes. The wild black raspberry is the only other berry that is similar. This raspberry is smaller and sweeter than the blackberry, and when picked, it is hollow like other raspberries.
FORMING A HABIT
Blackberries grow in dense, thorny thickets that are nearly impossible to navigate. They can reach a height of about 13 feet and frequently wind their way through other plants, shrubs, and trees. They are ramblers rather than climbers.
The blackberry plant’s canes arch over. The new growth is bright green and thorny, often red. As they mature, they send out roots where they come into contact with the ground to form new plants.
Depending on the species, a blackberry cane can grow to be 40 feet long.
White or pale pink flowers with five oval petals and a pale green or pale-yellow center. The flowers appear near the cane tips.
On top, blackberry leaves are dark green. They have a slight white fuzz on the back and a row of tiny thorns along the central ridge if you turn them over.
The leaves are usually arranged in groups of three or five leaflets on a central stalk.
The fruits are composed of numerous small fleshy parts known as drupes. They are tiny and pale green when they first emerge from the flowers. When fully ripe, they will be white, red, deep purple, and finally black.
Blackberries can quickly establish themselves in any scrubby area, including roadside ditches, abandoned areas, meadows, woodland, and hedgerows.
Blackberries are a hardy shrub that grows in USDA zones 5–8.
Wear protective clothing and eyewear when harvesting them due to the sharp thorns.
How Do You Spot Wild Blueberries?
Wild blueberries, like their store-bought counterparts, are small, dusky, blue-black berries high in antioxidants, potassium, and vitamin C.
POISONOUS BERRIES THAT APPEAR TO BE BLUEBERRIES
Nightshade is a poisonous berry that can be mistaken for blueberries.
Nightshade, like blueberries, has small dark berries. They grow all over the country, but unlike blueberries, they are bitter to the taste and contain lethal amounts of alkaloid toxins.
In North America, there are three common species of wild blueberry. The sour top (Vaccinium myrtilloides), lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), and highbush blueberry are all varieties of blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum).
The sour top is the larger of the two species, reaching heights of six to 24 inches. The lowbush blueberry is smaller, reaching only three to fifteen inches in height.
Blueberry flowers can range in color from light pink to white. They sprout from thin branches. They have a single bell-shaped cap that is shaped like a fruit and grow in large clusters.
Blueberry bush leaves are broad and green, with an elongated oval shape. The leaf’s tip has a distinct point. They grow singly along the branch in an alternating pattern. The leaves turn a brilliant red in the autumn.
The wild blueberry fruit is similar to that of cultivated blueberries, but it is smaller, measuring about 14 inch in diameter. It has a round shape and a dusky blue-black coloration, with a five-pointed cupped crown on the end of the berry.
The fruits contain tiny, soft seeds when broken open.
Sour top blueberries have a waxy coating on the outside, whereas lowbush blueberries have a powdery coating.
As the name implies, lowbush berries are sweeter than sour top berries.
Sour top bushes are typically found in deciduous woodland settings, whereas lowbush varieties are more common in pastures or open forests.
Blueberries can be found throughout the United States, but they are most common in New Jersey and Maine. They thrive in USDA hardiness zones 3–6.
There are poisonous blue-colored berries. Check them carefully before eating them, and use a guidebook with clear color photographs to make a positive identification.
Blueberries taste best when fully ripe. Give the bush’s branches a gentle shake to test this. The fruit that has fallen is fully ripe.
Even though the berries are blue, it will take a few more days for them to fully ripen.
How Do You Spot Wild Raspberries?
Wild raspberries are smaller and more rounded than store-bought raspberries, which can lead to confusion when identifying them.
FORMING A HABIT
Raspberries, like other similar berries, grow on canes. To produce a new plant, the canes bend over and form new roots where they touch the ground. They frequently form dense thickets.
A healthy bush can grow to be quite large, reaching four feet in height and three feet in width.
Blossoms can be found from late spring to August. They are usually white with five petals and last for about a day. A purple flowering variety is also available, with flowers ranging from pale pink to a deep pinky purple.
While red raspberry canes are cinnamon in color, black raspberry canes are purple. They have fine, prolific thorns that distinguish them from blackberry bushes.
The raspberry bush’s leaves are thinner than those of the blackberry bush. They have a toothed edge and are elongated oval in shape. Each branch has five to seven leaves, and the top of the leaf has a hairy appearance in some varieties.
Wild raspberries are small, round, and have many drupelets. The surface of the fruit will be covered in tiny hairs.
Wild raspberries are not only red; they can also be yellow, white, purple, or black.
Fruits are available throughout the summer and often into the early fall.
They are high in potassium and vitamin C.
Raspberry bushes can be found growing along roadsides, in clearings, and in mixed woodland.
They prefer well-drained soil and thrive in full or partial sun.
They are found throughout the United States in hardiness zones 2 to 7, as well as in Canada.
Picking wild berries can be a lot of fun, and despite the fact that they are often smaller than store-bought varieties, they usually taste much sweeter.
When you first start foraging, always bring a good guidebook with you that includes not only detailed color images of the plants you want to pick, but also those that may confuse you.
Never eat anything you aren’t completely sure about!
It is best to avoid fruits growing along roadsides or near agricultural land that has been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.