Story last updated at 7/7/2010 - 11:40 am
The gorgeous magenta flowers of salmonberry shrubs are quickly being replaced by edible berries, dotting the profusion of green leaves with tantalizing orange and red raspberry-like fruit and kicking off the berry-picking season here on Prince of Wales Island and all over Southeast Alaska. Although the time is past for snacking on their tender spring shoots and edible flowers, ripe berries should be available into August.
Early bloomers, the salmonberry flowers provide important nectar for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and insects at a time of early season slim pickings. The berries are gratefully consumed by many animals besides humans, such as songbirds, small mammals and bears. I've noticed a number of chubby robins plucking salmonberries and a friend was lucky enough recently to observe one fastidious mother robin in the act of feeding a salmonberry to her hungry, growing progeny. A berry that size should quiet a baby bird for a bit.
Even before the fruit appears, the leaves and stems of salmonberries furnish browse for ravenous ungulates such as our Sitka black-tailed deer. Dense, thorny thickets offer habitat for nesting birds and small mammals. For people, bark and leaves can be useful in facial steams, herbal baths and hair rinses.
One of the things I like about salmonberries is that they are bulky. Considerably larger than, say, a blueberry, they will accumulate to fill your gathering basket more quickly. Plump and juicy, they make a great thirst-quenching snack this time of year and are so prolific that they seem to be everywhere, in towns as well as out along roads and rivers.
Salmonberries like to grow in moist places and are perfectly happy with shade but flourish in sun as well if there is plenty of moisture. Harboring an innate propensity to grow on steep slopes, salmonberries can prove challenging to gather at times and even tall basketball players are confounded by the reach required.
It can be deceiving as you stand there on flat ground thinking you can pick a ton of berries only to find that the one step you need to take to grab them is straight down, rendering the fruit even further out of reach. The only thing to do at that point is charge on into the dark, barren understory world of salmonberry thickets and bend down the tops of the berry-bearing branches whose treasures are still way up there out of reach. Like-minded bears might be lurking in there too or some unfriendly Sasquatch. Who knows?
Once I get a decent supply of berries - or begin to go mad from bugs, whichever comes first - I like to put them through my hand-cranked juicer to remove the abundant seeds, which are overwhelming in my opinion. I prefer jelly to jam when it comes to these berries and better yet is the juice, which is delicious even without added sugar.
Some people have suggested that salmonberries are dull and flavorless but many others find them quite appetizing. They can always be blended with other juices if more zing is desired. Debate also persists over which color is tastier, although as I understand it, they are all the same species and can just be red, orange or yellow. I prefer bright red ones for unexplored, psychological reasons but will certainly harvest any within reach.
Make time today to pick a handful for your morning pancakes. Even a few are better than none, and how else can you literally enjoy the fruits of your labor?
Carla Petersen is a remote-living freelance artist and writer. She can be reached at email@example.com