Is your Backyard Berry Patch loaded with delicious, tasty but unusual, exotic, and unfamiliar berries?
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Most of the sweet, juicy, luscious berries of summer have gone to live in Memoryville, and the scant selections now available in our grocery stores pale in both quality and taste without even considering their ever-increasing, exorbitant cost. Now is the time for fall fruits, but it’s also the time for planning scrumptious additions to the backyard berry patch.
Less common small fruit bushes and brambles include aronias,Barbados cherries, boysenberries,Cape Gooseberries, Chinese gooseberries, dewberries,gooseberries,elderberries, currants,huckleberries,jostaberries, juneberries,lingonberries,loganberries,marionberries,Olallieberries,salmonberries,sand blackberries, Sandra berries, saskatoons, seaberries, sea grapes, tayberries, thimbleberries and wolfberries. I’m sure there are some I have missed!
(The hyperlinks for gooseberries and elderberries above are to articles I have previously written about those fruits. Please check them out for detailed information.) The more familiar berries like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, currants and grapes have been covered in Backyard Orcharding: It’s the Berries!!
There is a whole class of berries called Aggregated Drupelets, which simply means a berry made up of tiny individual globules, each containing one seed. The more common ones are raspberries and blackberries. The less common ones covered in this article are boysenberry, dewberry, Loganberry, Marionberry, Olallieberry, salmonberry, tayberry, thimbleberry, wineberry and Youngberry.
The Boysenberry (R. ursinus x idaeus), zones 5a-8b, is a seedless cross among a Pacific blackberry, red raspberry and loganberry. The berries are a dark purple almost black in color when ripe, softer than a blackberry, and lack the blackberry's large seeds. The story has it that Rudolph Boysen developed this berry and later abandoned his experiments. Walter Knott, then a berry grower, tracked down the berries and started selling them at his roadside stand, naming the berry for Boysen. As their popularity grew, Mrs. Knott began selling the preserves, which became world famous as Knott's Berry Farm. There are also thornless boysenberry varieties available. I think the Boysenberry may be my favorite berry! The Dewberry (Rubus caesius) is a small powdery looking blackberry but tasting more like a raspberry, and usually has fewer druplets. Dewberries are found (and favored) on the Pacific Coast, especially in Oregon.
The Loganberry (Rubus loganobaccus), zones 5a-10b, is a tart raspberry-blackberry cross but tastes like a bit of strawberry has been added. They do not keep long as they are very soft. Due to their strong acidic taste, they are seldom eaten fresh; however, they make excellent pies and preserves. The Marionberry, (Rubus 'Marion'), zones 7b-9b, sometimes called a Marion Blackberry, is a cross between a "Chehalem" Blackberry and Olallieberry, said to carry the best attributes of each. The flavor is intensely aromatic 'blackberry' and is outstanding for jams, jellies, pies and even ice cream. The Olallieberry is a cross between a Youngberry and a Loganberry with a black, sweet berry, generally found on the west coast. Pacific Blackberries (Rubus ursinus), zones 7a-11 are a small wild blackberry found growing from Baja to British Columbia and into Idaho and is a parent of Loganberry, Youngberry, and Boysenberry.
Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis), zones 3a-9b, is a close relative of the raspberry, with very soft fruit that matures yellow to red (salmon-colored). They were an important food for Native Americans and used in making pemmican. In parts of Alaska they are called "Russian Berries" and are found mainly west of the Cascades, growing in thickets under red alders. Sand Blackberries (Rubus cunefolia), zones 7a-10b, are a stiff shrubby wild small-fruited blackberry growing in sandy soils in the eastern U.S. from CT to FL.
Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), zones 3b-7a, is often called Western Thimbleberry, Salmonberry, Mountain Sorrel, White Flowering Raspberry, and Western Thimble Raspberry. Native to California, it grows from Alaska to Arizona and east to the Great Lakes. The thornless shrub has large (up to 8-10") soft, fuzzy leaves that look like maple leaves. The quarter-size red fruit is said to have a raspberry-watermelon taste but not as firm. Excellent for jelly. Wineberries(Rubus phoenicolasius Maxim), zones 6a-8b, or wine raspberries grow wild here in my area, where they can be a threat to native plants. They are slightly smaller than a raspberry, and a bit fuzzy. I picked about a gallon for jelly last summer; they really taste like a red wine and raspberry mix. Youngberry (Rubus ursinus cv. Young) is a cross between the Phenomenal (a cultivar very similar to the Logan) and the Mayes Dewberry (Rubus almus) or trailing blackberry. It was not introduced until 1926, but it quickly became important in replacing the Logan to a great extent in California, and to some extent in Oregon and Washington. It a parent of the very popular Olallieberry and a grandparent of the Marionberry. It is grown in Australia and South Africa more than in the U.S.
Other Tasty and Unusual Berries:
Sea Buckthorn or Sea Berries
Black Chokeberry (Aronia)
Red Chokeberry (Aronia)
One of the most productive and widely grown berry bushes in the world and almost unknown in the U.S. is the Sea Buckthornor Sea Berry (Hippophae rhamnoides). This attractive shrub from the Russian Far East grows 6-10’ tall, is disease resistant, and cold hardy to -50ºF. It has narrow silver leaves and abundant round yellow fruits. The fruits are sour but when sweetened, they taste like orange passionfruit and are very high in Vitamin C. They are widely used in Europe for jams and jellies, and the fruits (alone or blended with other fruits) make a wonderful juice.
Another unfamiliar yet highly productive berry is Aronia (Aronia melanocarpa or Aronia x prunifolia) also known as Chokeberry. It should be a fixture in our backyards (zones 3a-9) as a beautiful and delicious edible landscape plant. The fruit, high in Vitamin C, matures around August in clusters of blueberry-sized berries eaten fresh and juicy, or used in jams, jellies and juice. This berry is native to the eastern U.S. but the best varieties are bred in Eastern Europe and Sweden. Vikingis a good Swedish variety, very flavorful with an awesome amount of fruits. Most Aronias have lovely red fall coloring.
Barbados cherries aka Acerola (Malpighia glabra), zones 9b-11, is a tart, juicy tropical red berry said to be one of the fruits highest in Vitamin C. For the sake of comparison, 100 grams of ripe Acerola fruit contains 17,000 milligrams of vitamin C, whereas 100 grams of oranges contains only 50 milligrams. Grown both as an ornamental shrub and for the fruit, they need full sun and high temperatures. My grandmother had a Barbados Cherry hedge in Miami and I remember the ripe fruit as being tart and sweet at the same time. The fruit is used for fresh juice (but doesn’t keep well), jams, and jellies. Bush Cherries(Prunus Japonicas x P.jacquemontii), zones 4-9, a beautiful ornamental montmorency type pie cherry in bush form 4’ tall that can produce up to 10 lbs. of cherries per plant. 2 varieties are needed for cross-pollination.
Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana L.), zones 10a-11, is native to Brazil and got its name from cultivation on the Cape of Good Hope. It is also called a Florida Ground Cherry. The self-pollinating plant is somewhat vining, up to three feet, with a smooth, waxy apricot-colored skin. Ripe fruit can be eaten fresh, or used in preserves due to its high pectin content. The Chinese Gooseberry (Actinidia chinensis or A. deliciosa), zones 8a-10b, is also known as Yang Tao or Kiwi. It is a vigorous vine growing 12- 25 feet. Every 4 female plants need 1 male plant for pollination. The 1-1/2” to 3” fruit may be peeled and eaten fresh, or used in salads. It is also preserved, stewed and used in sauces. There is another Kiwi (also a vine), the Hardy Kiwifruit (Actinidia arguta), zones 4a-8b although young plants need cold protection and even mature vines need late frost protection to protect new fruit buds. It is a cousin to the somewhat hairy grocery store Kiwi above. This kiwifruit is the size of grapes with a smooth edible skin said to be sweeter, more flavorful than Kiwi. They need a separate non-fruiting male for every 8 female plants although ‘Issai’ is self-pollinating. ‘Anna’, along with early-ripening ‘Geneva’ and ‘Dumbarton’ are some particularly good fruiting varieties.
Kiwi or Chinese Gooseberry
Unripe Cape Gooseberry
“Huckleberries and bilberries are popular for many reasons. Some, like the mountain and Cascade huckleberries, have outstanding flavors and aromas and lend themselves to the production of a vast array of culinary and cosmetic products. Restaurants throughout North America, from mom-and-pop diners to upscale resorts, feature huckleberries in specialty sauces, desserts, and salad dressings.
In today's society, people are intensely interested in foods and other natural products that can help prevent cancer, heart disease, and other health problems. Research in Europe and North American have shown that huckleberries and bilberries are rich in anthocyanins, antioxidants, and other compounds that may be beneficial to human health. In recent years, some brokers have begun exporting huckleberry and bilberry fruits and products to overseas health food markets.”
There is a lot of confusion as to what a huckleberry really IS. In the eastern US, huckleberries are found in the genus Gaylussacia, belonging to the Heath family while Western huckleberries, like their close relatives cranberries and blueberries, belong to the genus Vaccinium, also in the Heath family. The primary plant source for Mountain Huckleberries in culinary use is Vaccinium membranaceum and occasionally, Cascade huckleberry (V. deliciosum). Two excellent sources of information are from the University of Idaho: one is their Berry Bulletin, and another is Growing Western Huckleberries.
Wild Cascade Huckleberries
The heath family also includes Bear-Berry or Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), a prostrate shrub of the Rocky Mountains. The fleshy berries are bright red and were collected by Native Americans for food although now mostly eaten by bears and other wildlife. A yellowish dye is obtained from the leaves. (Note that some nurseries carry “garden huckleberries” from in the tomato family; they are unrelated altogether and produce a very different fruit.)
Jostaberries (Ribes nidigrolaria), zones 3a-8b, are hybrid of a black currant and a gooseberry, tasting more like a currant. Plants are vigorous with high yielding fruits that ripen in mid-July. Best grown on a trellis.
Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), zones 3a-5b, is a prostrate North American shrub that grows in acidic, boggy soils. I won’t cover it here because most of us know the common cranberry served at Thanksgiving and it's not suitable for a backyard berry patch. The Bush Cranberry, known as High-bush Cranberry, Lowbush Cranberry, Squashberry and Mooseberry (Virbinum edule), zones 2b-7a, is a straggly shrub that grows to 8' and is native to the northern US, Alaska, and Canada. The fruits, used mainly in preserves, are hard and sour but improve after autumn freezes. There is also a European Cranberry aka Bog Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos).
Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera), zones 10a-11, is not related to grapes at all. It is in the buckwheat family along with rhubarb, and native to the Florida Keys and the Caribbean. When I was a child and would visit my grandfather over summer vacations, we made many trips to the beach at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne with my cousins. Our two challenges were avoiding sandspurs (impossible) and seeing who could suck on a sea grape the longest. We had only one rule: you must bite into the very tart, still unripe flesh. I usually lost. The main vegetation along the beach areas on Crandon Park included coconut palms bent inland from offshore breezes, and sea grapes. While the sea grape can grow into a 50 foot tree, the ones we saw were about 8-12 feet tall. When the fruit ripens it is still sour, but with its high pectin, it is used in jams and jellies.
Miracle Fruit or Miracle Berry (Synsepalum dulcificum), also grows only in zones 10b-11. It is called ‘miracle’ because when you eat a single fruit (which is not sweet), you can then eat a sour lemon or lime without puckering. The effect lasts 30 minutes or more and having a potted ‘Miracle Fruit’ bush makes for great conversations. The shrub is not frost tolerant and should be brought inside for winter except in Hawaii and south Florida.
Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis idaea), aka Mountain Cranberry, Cowberry and Foxberry, growing in zones 2a-6b. They are a fantastic and attractive evergreen edible ground cover about 12” tall and can withstand arctic temps. The leaves are glossy green and will eventually form a thick mat that chokes out weeds. Besides great berries, the plants are quite useful in a rock garden. The bright red berries are the size of a blueberry, tasting like a cranberry, while the plant grows like a cross between a cranberry and a blueberry and yield ½ to 1 pound of berries per plant. The fall harvested berries are used for pickles, sauces, preserves, jelly and wine.
Saskatoons, (I just love that word!) also called Western Serviceberry, Pacific Serviceberry, Shad-Bush and Juneberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) are similar to blueberries. Generally the Saskatoon is a 6’ shrub but it can reach tree heights; they are cold-hardy to zone 4 and drought-tolerant. The small self-fertile white flowers appear in late May and June; the purple-black berries mature in late July. The berries are sweet, high in iron and copper and taste a bit like blueberries. They are good pies, muffins, preserves or fresh and in desserts. A note of caution: ther leaves and seeds contain poisonous cyanide-like compounds which is destroyed by cooking. Native Americans used Saskatoons for stomach and liver problems, cooked in soups and stews, made into a pemmican recipe, and used the juice as a dye.
The Sandra Berry Vine, “Five Flavor Fruit”, Wu Wei Zi or Chinese Magnolia Vine (Schinzandra chinensis) grows in zones 4-9. It is hardy, pest-free and shade-tolerant with small fragrant flowers, and edible scarlet berries that are high in Vitamin C and trace elements. The juice is said to taste like cranberry only sweeter. Leaves brewed into a tea taste like green tea with lemon, while leaves and young stems are steamed as a vegetable. Most will need a pollinator although one variety, Eastern Prince (from Burnt Ridge Nursery or One Green World) is self-fertile. If you travel near Amherst, MA, the Amherst Chinese Restaurant there has it on the menu, grown on their own organic farm. Nearby Nourse Farms might carriy Sandra Berry bushes.
Lastly, the newest popular berry in the West is “Wolfberry” (Lycium barbarum L.) or http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/63947 zones 4b-9b. The wolfberry has been grown in China for at least 2,000 years, used in Chinese medicine as well as common recipes. The Mandarin word was gougi, pronounced “goo-chee” which has become Goji. In the 18th century Chinese farmers nicknamed the gouji “wolfberry’ upon seeing wolves feasting on the summer berries. The wolfberry is highly esteemed by the Chinese as a nutrition-dense medicinal herb. This reputation has stimulated research into potential health benefits, commercialization and now exports to the West. The wolfberries are eaten fresh or dried, and young leaves and shoots are eaten as a leaf vegetable.
I hope you have enjoyed this little foray into some unusual and exotic berries that you can grow in your own backyard. I think my picks for my own zone 5b yard (from this list) are Boysenberries, Lingonberries, Seaberries, Aronia and Hardy Kiwifruit. I'd love to try the Miracle Fruit just for the novelty, but truly I have no suitable space to over-winter one in a container.
11/2 C chopped onions 4 C water 8C high bush cranberries, fresh or frozen 1 C cider vinegar 11/4 C packed brown sugar 1 C light corn syrup 11/2 tsp salt 11/2 tsp cinnamon 11/2 tsp ground allspice 1 tsp ginger 1/4 tsp ground cloves
Combine onion and water in a large, aluminum free pan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the onion pieces are clear. Add the berries and bring the mixture to a boil; partially cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries are soft, about 10 minutes.
Puree the mixture and return it to the rinsed out pan. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring the ketchup to a boil over medium high heat and boil, stirring constantly, until it is thick, about 3-5 minutes. If the ketchup becomes too thick, thin it with a little extra vinegar and water. Taste the ketchup and add a little more sugar and/or salt if desired. This recipe is considered excellent for serving with wild game (moose, elk, or venison).
Aronia Jelly (Aronia melanocarpa) This aronia recipe was adapted from a chokecherry recipe by a friend, her mother pronounced the results fantastic, even better than chokecherry.
3-1/2 cups berry juice 1⁄2 cup lemon juice 1 package pectin 6 cups sugar
Wash fruit and cover with water, simmer 15 minutes. Strain the juice. Pour measured amount into a 6-8 quart non-reactive kettle such as enamel or stainless steel. Add lemon juice, pectin and stir. Bring to a boil, add sugar, stir, and bring to a full rolling boil. Boil exactly two minutes. Skim and pour into clean, hot jars. Seal.
Makes approximately 4 pints of jelly. Recipe from Raintree.
About Darius Van d'Rhys
I have a 'growing my own food' obsession that comes from my overlapping interests in cooking, nutrition and gardening. I am also a "teacher", a writer, a builder… and a craftsperson and... and… and many other things, LOL. In fact, I guess I am a generalist, and a Seeker.
I live in the southern Appalachian Mountains on a hillside with a creek in front, and drive a 15 year old truck I lovingly call “My Farmer’s Ferrari.”