Salmonberries the Amazing Gift of Nature

The very first berry can be found in nature in British Columbia is salmonberry followed by raspberry, thimbleberry and then blackberry. Salmonberry is endemic to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest (British Columbia, Washington, parts of Idaho, Oregon, and parts of California). Surprisingly, it can also be found in East Asia (Japan).

Incidentally, the salmonberry plants can abundantly be found along the Pacific Ring of Fire with the fertile volcanic soil from the Cascades mountains from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and the northern part of California supported by the awesome climate of the Pacific Northwest.

The scientific name of salmonberry is Rubus spectabilis, the member of the rose family with about 88 genera and 3,000 species. Salmonberry more specifically belongs to the genus Rubus in North America, which is simplified to only 37 species. It is a spectacular berry with a beautiful shape and color, supported by natural unforgettable taste.

In the wild, salmonberry fruits are typically eaten by birds, small mammals, bears, and humans, while the leaves, twigs, stems are grazed on by deer, elks, and rabbits. Salmonberry stems are not with thorns, so it makes the harvest enjoyable. The dense and thicket growth of the plants can provide escape for small animals, as well as nesting sites for birds.

Salmonberry plants love rich nitrogen, nutrient-dense soil found in the coastal areas. They easily can be transplanted and cultivated. Apply a thick layer of compost, typically 15-20 cm or worm castings or vermicompost just 1.5-2 cm to grow the salmonberry plants. The plants prefer plenty of moisture. The salmonberries ripen mostly in late Spring until early Summer (June – July).

Salmonberry is a shrub ranging in height up to 4 meters. The plant has pink to magenta flowers with 5 delicate petals in a circle. The flowering heads are representative of rose family (bisexual, perfect flower) with 75 – 100 stamens (male part) and many individual pistils (female part) with superior ovaries in one flower. Salmonberry flowers require cross pollination by insects and hummingbirds.

Salmonberry fruit is not a true berry (one fruit one berry), instead it is an aggregate fruit made of many smaller fruits or drupelets. The salmonberry fruits exhibit polymorphism, as berries are often either yellow, orange, or red with similar physical qualities and tastes. The red berries are more commonly consumed by birds.

I like most of the yellow salmonberries because I expect a rather sour taste, surprisingly getting just right sweet and bold tastes. The taste of the salmonberry seeds reminds of the taste of IPA (Indian Pale Ale) beer. Cheers! It is nice to share the first berries of the year with birds and other friends in nature. Some people, especially children, don’t really like salmonberries due to the less sweet taste and high fibre of the seeds. That is how the first lesson of the healthy diet and out of comfort zone come from.

Eat the salmonberries slowly, enjoy the low fructose for diet and the bold taste of the berries, especially the healthy bitter taste of their chewable seeds. First Nations people eat them with dried meat, smoked salmon, and salmon roe. There is speculation how the berry got its name, maybe because of their resemblance shape and color to salmon roe.

As many other endemic berries, salmonberry has several benefits. Salmonberries are said to have the highest manganese content and rich in vitamin A, C, E, K. Manganese helps in many body functions like regulating blood sugar, maintaining metabolism, also helps increasing digestion and reducing inflammation or pain.

According to the report of Kellogg Lab Penn State University, salmonberry producing plants that thrive under inhospitable conditions, such as the cold and wind of Alaska, might have more phytochemicals than the berry grown under gentler growing conditions. This is because the plants, in order to adapt and thrive, produce protective secondary phytochemicals. These chemicals not only help the plant to survive extreme weather but can also have health benefits to the animals, including humans, who go on to consume them.

Permission is needed to reproduce the photo.

-Bintoro Gunadi


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