Who doesn't love berries? Especially in the Northwest, berries can be found from mid-Spring through early Fall. Everyone has their favorite, but regardless of your preference you can't deny they can be amazingly motivating.
My kids sometimes aren't really into a hike. I know. It's shocking and shameful. But I can remedy this problem by finding berries. From an early age they've come to understand the magic that is contained in a tiny berry. Sweet, juicy, and full of energy they can keep my kids moving.
We have two rules when picking berries.
1) If you don't know what it is, ask. We don't eat unknown berries. That can be bad.
2) When Mom or Dad says it's time to stop please stop. Berries are good for you and tasty, but too many can have undesirable results.
Our favorite berry is whatever is available. That sounds like a cop out, but it's true.
First come the salmonberries. These can be sour or bitter if picked too soon, but when they're a dark red they are nearly perfect. The bushes have thorns, but aren't nearly as bad as blackberries.
Red huckleberries come next. They look a lot like fish eggs and grow on bushes sprouting from rich soil in the dark forest. We eat these by the handfuls in the early season. You can get an entire meal from a mature bush.
Thimbleberries are so sweet they're almost sickening. Only a few of these and I'm done.
Blackberries come on in the hot part of the summer and into Fall. There are two kinds. The Himalayan blackberry is an invasive species that forms solid stalks with brutal thorns. The berries are tasty, but you pay the price for them. The native blackberry is a vine that grows low to the ground with smaller berries. The thorns are tiny, but can still give you a solid scratch and draw blood. If you want to be my friend, make me a blackberry pie, served chilled. If you must serve ice cream, I'll take it on the side.
Less tasty, but still edible, are the Oregon grape berry and sallal berry. Both look a lot like blueberries, but the taste is complete different. The Oregon grape are insanely sour and the sallal have a mushy texture and a meh taste.
A berry I haven't tasted myself, because I only just discovered they are edible, is the bunchberry. Bunchberry is my favorite wildflower of all time so I can't wait to taste the supposedly apple-flavored orange berry this Fall.
Most people don't plan trips to go looking for blackberries or thimbleberries, but they do for big deal berry of the backcountry. The blue huckleberry shows up toward the Autumn in huge numbers. The bears fatten up on them wherever the hikers haven't stripped the plants bare. The best ones can range in taste from normal blueberry flavor to a crazy banana flavor that is highly addictive.
We are lucky in that many of these berries grow near our home and appear earlier than their mountain cousins. Just like with wildflowers, we follow the berries into the high places and their discovery beside a lake or near a summit is cause for celebration.
Before you start picking, remember to be sure you know how to identify berries and their plants. Never eat something you aren't sure is safe. Bon appetite!