Summertime in Alaska means berries. Lots and lots of berries. From one end to the other, Alaska is covered in wild berries, both edible and not. Be sure you’re set for a busy summer of foraging in Alaska for wild berries.
Foraging in Alaska – Equipment
While berry picking can be done with no more equipment than your hands (and mouth), there are some things to make it a bit easier.
When picking low bush cranberries, a “berry picker” can come in very handy. These pickers are best for firmer berry varieties that are bunched close together. When used on soft berries, they will usually just squish and fall apart in the picker.
Obviously you’re going to need something to put the berries in while picking them (besides your mouth). Don’t choose too large a container or all the berries on the bottom will get squished and you’ll lose a lot of that delicious juice when you wash them. Whether you use a small plastic bowl, a mason jar, a basket, or even a plastic baggie, be sure it is a food-grade container that will protect your loot on the transport home.
Once you get them home, a strainer is a must for getting the harvest clean. If you plan to freeze them, spread the berries out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once the berries are completely frozen, they can be stored in a bag in the freezer without sticking together. If you’re planning on making a variety of jams, I personally suggest a Ball Jam and Jelly Maker– this thing has revolutionized the way I make jam! (This is what I use when making my Vanilla Blueberry Jam.) Dehydrating is another option for preserving the harvest.
Foraging in Alaska – Berry Varieties
Both red and black currants grow wild throughout Alaska. These beautiful gems of fruits are quite tasty, chock full of vitamins, and can be used in a variety of ways, although jelly seems to be the most popular, thanks to that amazing color!
Smaller than their store-bought cousins, wild strawberries can be found pretty much throughout Alaska. They are best picked in late-June and throughout July.
Salmonberries look a lot like raspberries, but will range in color from yellow to orange to red, all on one plant! These are fragile berries, so take care when picking them. These tasty berries have many uses and are also very good for you. Best picked mid- to late summer.
Watermelon berries are commonly found along the coast of Alaska, preferring cool, damp conditions. Both the berries and young shoots are edible. Make sure you are 100% on the identification when picking these, as they look similar to false hellbore, a poisonous berry.
Cloudberries are very similar to raspberries and salmonberries, although they grow on very low bushes (often referred to as “low bush salmonberries” due to this). These little tasty berries contain over twice the vitamin C (per serving) that a glass of orange juice has. Pick in mid- to late summer and handle gently. Unless the berries are dusty, don’t even wash them. Just remove any leaves and debris and enjoy!
Wild Alaskan raspberries (technically American Red Raspberry) are small bites of amazing. Although smaller than what you see in the stores, they pack in more flavor than their larger counterparts. Use the leaf for tea and the berries for… well, everything! Mmmm…. berry muffins….
High bush cranberries tend to get a bad rap in Alaska. They tend to have a musty odor and flavor, but many people love them. They can be used in many ways and pair well with other fruits. Best picked before the first frost.
As a kid, I didn’t like blueberries, except the wild ones. Alaskan blueberries of all kinds are full of flavor and vitamins. There are several varieties that grow throughout the State, including Blue Huckleberries, Alaska Blueberries, Bog Blueberries, and Dwarf Blueberries (my favorite!). Be sure to harvest before the first frost.
Low bush cranberries (aka Lingonberries) are amazing Alaskan treasures. Once you make your own homemade cranberry sauce, you’ll never go back to the store bought kind! These are best picked after the first frost.
Crowberries, also known as mossberries, are another low bush berry that is best picked after the first frost, although you’ll have to be more gentle with them at that point. Also very good for you, these berries can be used many ways, much like blueberries.
Juniper berries are unusual berries in Alaska, as they take a few years to ripen. They are green their first year and then ripening to black in the second or third year. They are mainly used medicinally. The berries and twig parts can also be used to season meat, smoke fish, and traditionally used in sauerkraut.
Foraging in Alaska – Etiquette
Respect other’s secret berry picking spots. They may have told or invited you, but you shouldn’t tell others where it is.
When you drop berries, leave them. This helps to ensure new growth in coming years. (Although if you drop your entire bucket, salvaging what you can is understandable.)
Don’t pick every single berry in a patch. Many birds and animals rely on those berries to get through the winter.
Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave any garbage behind. Let’s keep Alaska’s berry patches clean!
Be ready to go foraging this Spring in Alaska too!