Homesteading · Prepping

Berries To Forage For On Whidbey Island

Cold springs that are wet are beneficial to one thing: native plants growing bumper crops of berries.

And those berries are there for you to enjoy, to forage for, and to enjoy.

This is a collection of berries you can find on Whidbey Island, Washington. And all around the Pacific Northwest as well. For many grow from sea level into the foothills of the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, even as high up into the montane and subalpine zones for a few (and there are even more berries in the mountains that are different). The islands though, they bear heavily after wet, cooler springs. Walk the local forests, and you might get a treat. The heaviest crops will be on the forest’s edge, where the sun hits the heaviest, or for cane berries, in the open scrubby meadows.

The berries will start soon, and go into early fall, depending on the type. This is the year you learn what you can pick, what you like, and to preserve them for the coming winter.

The berries below are all relatively easy to source and nearly all are enjoyable. There are more wild berries in the area, such as Madrona (Madrone) berries, but are not necessarily very tasty.

Best picking and handling practices?

If you are picking on public lands, make sure you know any limits. National Parks nearly always have limits, per day, per person.

Always pick away from roads to avoid contamination.

Only pick from healthy looking plants. If wilted, don’t pick.

Know if pesticides and herbicides are used where you are picking. Don’t pick in areas that have had old contamination (for example if a gas station that leaked constantly was shut down and blackberries took over, I’d skip).

Never, ever strip a bush. Always leave berries for the animals. Unless you are starving and it’s your only food.

Don’t break or cut branches/canes off to make picking easier.

If on the mainland, keep your ears open for bears.

Carry containers with lids, so you don’t spill your hard earned treats.

If it is warm out and you drove or biked, carry a cooler to put them in, to lower the temperature until you get home.

Wash the berries, pick over, then air dry on a towel. Eat fresh, make other items out of them, or freeze in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets, then pack up.

Find a guide book on berries, and keep it handy. I prefer an old school book, Northwestern Wild Berries, that I refer to when I find something new.

If there was a plant that says “PNW” it is the Red Huckleberry. It grows from sea level to almost subalpine in the mountains. Often it grows out of old decaying nurse logs and stumps left from logging. It’s lacy, delicate green leaves shine in dull dark forests, though the best crops come from the plants on the edge of the forest.

Red Huckleberries ripen early at low elevation. Look under the leaves for the tiny pink/red berries that definitely look like mini blueberries. They are tart/sweet and taste like nothing else.

Evergreen Huckleberry. It is an island staple, and grows everywhere. It prefers dryer areas, and is often next to Madrona Trees (Madrone) and Cedar Trees. If it grows in the deep forest, it will grown tall, often up and over 20 feet high but not put on flowers or berries. It needs to be on the edge of the forest, sheltered, yet sunny, and the berries pile on. These bushes are evergreen (they don’t lose their leaves) and are heavy producers. They need acidic soil to grow well.

Depending on their angle in growing the berries can range from dusky blue (like a blueberry) to a dark jet black. The plants can be next to each other in fact!

Blue version.

Dark version.

Salal. It is the ground filler in island forests. The tough green leaves that whip at legs when hiking or biking narrow trails, the produce pink to hot pink flowers that native bees cannot resist. The berries are dark in color, big, and a bit “hairy”. They are an acquired taste but some love them. They also make a great dye for fabric and yarn.

Salal Berries.

The true PNW strawberry – Fragaria vesca, commonly called the wild strawberry, woodland strawberry, Alpine strawberry. It grows easily on the islands. It produces a tiny, but very flavorful berry. If you beat the squirrels and chipmunks that is.

The tiny wild strawberry.

Rubus ursinus, trailing blackberry. The native blackberry of the PNW. Tart, juicy and sweet all at once.

The tiny berries are worth looking for (and these are bigger than average, many are a quarter the size).

There is of course Himalayan Blackberries, that grow nearly everywhere, if there is sun. The berries are huge, but very thorny to get them from.

Nootka Rose, the wild rose of the islands in the Salish Sea. They grow like weeds here. The rose petals are usable for many things.

As are the rosehips that come on in late summer into fall. A high source of Vitamin C, they make excellent herbal tea.

The wild Sitka Rose, which grows wild due to being brought down from Alaska from China. The rose hips are cherry tomato sized in late summer – and are soft and easily used to make tea (and full of seeds you can harvest). They are deep red/orange and round.

Salmonberry blooms in early to mid spring.

Salmonberry, which grows well in boggier areas, on the edge of forests, into meadows/fields. The berries range from bright yellow orange to red, to a deep wine color (the best). Color can vary by where the plant is growing. The berries are “hairy” but delicious when fully ripe. They are ample sized and not seedy. They are an earlier berry, often ready in mid to late spring. Though in cool years will be early summer. Birds really love them.

Deeply ripe and actually sweet.

All it costs is your time (and well gas, if you have to drive) to stock up your freezer, to eat fresh and to make jam, jellies and other preserves to eat later.