I love salmonberries. According to Wikipedia these delicious little berries are native to the west coast and can be found from Alaska clear on down to California. They grow wild, and are often found on roadsides or along stream beds. Here in southwestern BC they are in season at the beginning of June – as in right now. And in my experience they are best when picked and eaten immediately.
I speak a lot about my love of local food. I garden, and I visit the farmer’s market. I joined a local grain initiative. I belong to a buying club. And these are all great things. But nothing compares to foraging. To going out for a walk and finding food that just grew there, with no effort on your part. The same sort of food that people in this part of the world have foraged for since time immemorial.
As a local I have eaten salmonberries for as long as I can remember. I can’t remember my first taste. But I can remember the best berry-picking spots. At university there were tons of salmonberries near the residence buildings, and my friend and I would gorge ourselves. As a teenager we lived in a house with a salmonberry thicket. And one weekend at Camp Howdy as a 12-year-old I think I survived on them, they were so abundant.
2-year-old Hannah with a handful of salmonberries
My husband does not particularly enjoy berries, and salmonberries are no exception. Which is fine, because it means I don’t have to share with him. Both of my children, on the other hand, are huge fans. I gave baby Jacob his first salmonberry a week ago and he bounced up and down with excitement. Then he grabbed my hand to see if I had any more for him. It was clear that he was a fan from his first taste.
A ripe red berry
There are two kinds of salmonberries. The red kind, which I think is slightly more abundant in our area. More people are familiar with them, for sure. The berries range from an orange-red to almost black. However, there are also yellow berries. And if you find a yellow salmonberry bush you often have better luck with it, because people pass over the berries thinking they’re not ripe. However, they are just as sweet and delicious as their red counterparts.
A ripe yellow berry
So how do you tell the difference between a berry that is yellow and unripe, and a berry that is yellow and ripe? First off, check out the rest of the bush. If there aren’t any red or orange berries on it, that’s a good sign. Second, check the berry. A ripe berry just feels ripe. It comes off the stem easily, and it’s big and plump instead of small and hard.
Some juvenile salmonberry bushes
If you’ve never eaten a salmonberry, it’s probably a good idea to get someone who has to take you berry picking. That way you can have confidence that what you’re eating is the real deal. And once you can pick salmonberries out, you will be amazed at how prevalent they are. You may even find yourself pulling the car over for a quick handful of berries – all part of the fun of foraging!