Salmonberry – A West Coast Delicacy

RubusSalmonberryFruitSalmonberries are one of the most overlooked wild edibles on the west coast, perhaps because of their undeserved reputation for being somewhat bland. While these large suckering shrubs will vary in fruit quality from clone to clone, I can honestly say that I have never tasted a drab salmonberry. The species is native from California up to Alaska and is hardy to USDA zone 5 – so with the exception of a few pockets Rubus spectabilis in bloom (2)in northern Idaho, it is generally found along the coast in the temperate rainforest. Here in British Columbia it commonly seen in areas with moist soils, such as adjacent to streams and wetlands. Rubus spectabilis flowers in early spring and the bright magenta-pink blossoms are much favoured by the overwintering Anna’s hummingbirds and seem to coincide Rubusspectabilis'OlympicDouble' (2)with the return of the migrating Rufous. There is a large double-flowered form called ‘Olympic Double’ or ‘Flore Pleno’ which is primarily ornamental in nature, as the fruit production is rather poor. This was an important food species for many indigenous peoples and the early-ripening berries (May-June) were often salmon2 (2)picked from family-owned patches by the Coast Salish, with these areas open to others after the main harvest. The berries were generally eaten fresh (due to their high water content and difficulty to preserve) with smoked salmon. Having just read Eden Robinson’s novel Monkey Beach about the Haisla, I also learned that the salmon5 (2)young stems were harvested as a vegetable and either peeled and eaten raw, or steamed. The fruit gets its name from its resemblance to salmon roe, and I know of a few fisherman who still use salmonberries as bait. Ripe berries can vary in colour from red to orange, yellow and dark purple, with some people preferring the flavour of the darker berries – as for myself, I find the salmonjamyellow ones just as tasty. However if you are a little late picking them, you will quickly notice the birds preference for the darker fruit, as the golden ones are often left to rot on the bush. Rubus spectabilis can be a difficult fit for urban landscapes due to its thorns, suckering nature and sprawling habit. That being said, it is an excellent candidate for riparian rejuvenation as it controls erosion well and competes with the coverlowres1often overbearing Himalayan blackberry which is quickly overwhelming our forests. Salmonberry is a deciduous shrub that prefers a part to full sun exposure, but will tolerate open shade, and it is completely self-fertile. The berries make a delicious jam or wine, and they are easy to freeze for later use. If you would like to learn more about edible native berries, look for my new book Extraordinary Ornamental Edibles by Douglas & McIntyre.

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