Wild Berries can be found almost everywhere, on parkland, nature trails, mountains, meadows, and sometimes even in your yard. Edible wild berries are packed full of beneficial nutrients and are an excellent snack. Although many are usually safe to eat, some can be toxic and may even prove fatal when ingested. In this article, we will look at identifying edible wild berries and staying away from those that may harm you.
What You'll Learn Today
- How Can You Tell What Kind Of Berries You Have?
- How To Identify Wild Strawberries?
- How To Identify Wild Blackberries?
- How To Identify Wild Blueberries?
- How To Identify Wild Raspberries?
How Can You Tell What Kind Of Berries You Have?
You’ll already be familiar with quite a range of berries from your local grocery store. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries all taste great, and they look almost identical when growing in the wild. The main difference is size, as they will often be a lot smaller.
Other berries that are safe to eat, providing you don’t have allergies, include; loganberries, boysenberries, marionberries, olallieberries, or dewberries. One berry that’s easy to find and has excellent health benefits is elderberry, but that can’t be eaten raw.
The best way to tell what kind of berries you’ve found is to look them up in a really good field guide. Make sure it has plenty of high-quality, detailed color photos that show the plants at different times of the year and the fruits and leaves from different angles.
Study the characteristics of the plant you are looking at and how the berries compare to those in the guide. Don’t only use one factor to decide, ensure that you check out every part of the description and that it matches what you’re looking at.
Leaf shape, pattern, color, size, stem, growth pattern, habitat, and fruit characteristics must be positively identified.
Once you’ve made an identification, you can judge whether it is safe to eat or not. Always wash the fruit in clean bottled water, or take the berries home and give them a good clean there before consuming any.
Some people are allergic to certain berries, so to be on the safe side, it is best to eat only a few of the fruits, and if after several hours you have no ill effects, assume all is well and eat some more.
No Second Guessing
Never, ever, second guess if a berry is safe to eat or not. For example, just because you know that red strawberries and red raspberries are safe, it doesn’t mean that other red berries will be.
It is always better to assume a berry is unsafe and leave it alone if you are not 100% certain of what it is.
Let’s look in some more detail:
1. Outside Berry Color
Check the color of the berry against that shown in your guide.
2. Inside Berry Color
What color is the inside of the berry if you cut it open? Sometimes it can be totally different from the outside color. Check it against your guide.
Is the shape of the berry familiar? Is it made up of a single part like a blueberry or multiple parts like a blackberry or raspberry?
What is the texture like? Is it firm, soft, juicy, squishy? Make sure the texture is as you would expect for the berry you think you’re looking at.
5. Number of Seeds
How many seeds does the berry have? Sometimes this can make the crucial difference in telling if something is edible or not.
6. Color of Seeds
Seed color can vary from jet black to a pale tan. Ensure that the color of the seeds on the berry you’ve found matches that in the guidebook.
7. Seed Shape and Size
What shape are the seeds? Long and thin, round and fat? How large are they? Big, little, or medium-sized? Check it out.
If you do find some tasty berries to harvest, don’t strip the plant. Remember that taking more than you need can have an impact elsewhere.
Berries are a staple food source for birds and wild creatures, so don’t deprive them.
How To Identify Wild Strawberries?
There are two types of “wild” strawberry that grow widely in the United States; the wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), also called the scarlet strawberry, and the woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca), also called the Hillside Strawberry, Alpine Strawberry or European Strawberry.
They are both cute mini versions like the commercially grown strawberries you can pick up in a grocery store. But what you may not realize is that despite being small, they are packed full of super sweet flavor.
It isn’t only the berries you can eat, both the leaves and flowers can be too, and are good in salads.
I’m lucky enough to have some that grow in my orchard beneath the apple trees each spring. In the wild, they tend to grow in large swathes, and once you see one, you’ll often see many more.
Both types of strawberries that grow in the wild are edible but are often confused with each other. Let’s just sort that out!
The Scarlet Strawberry
This is a herbaceous perennial which is native to North America. It belongs to the Rosaceae family and uses the sun’s energy to photosynthesize and create glucose, making it sweet while turning carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Store-bought strawberries are hybrids of this little scarlet variety, crossed with Fragaria chiloensis, a strawberry native to parts of the western coastal region of South America.
Wild Strawberry What To Look For
It is easy to identify a wild strawberry:
When in bloom during the spring, between April and June, they produce white flowers with five rounded petals and five sharply pointed green sepals between each petal.
Small bracts, which are little leaflets, can be found where the stalk of the flower meets the stem.
They have a yellow center, and the flowers measure between ½ to ¾ of an inch wide.
The leaves are greeny-blue or green, oval-shaped, and have coarsely toothed edges. The tooth at the very tip of the leaf is much smaller and doesn’t extend as far as the teeth on either side of it.
If you turn a leaf over, you will find the underside is slightly hairy.
Leaves are around three inches in length and one and a half inches wide. They usually grow in a trifoliate pattern of three leaves to a stem.
These form where the flowers were and are globe-shaped and bright scarlet red. The tiny seeds that grow on the outside of each strawberry are called achenes. They can be seen in shallow pits on the berry’s surface.
Like other species of strawberry, they send out long runners to create new plants when they root. This is how they proliferate, as seed germination for strawberries is poor.
The average size of a plant is one to five inches high.
They can often be found in moist soils and like openings on the edge of woodland or forests. They can also be found in prairies and on savannas. They will thrive in full or partial sun but can tolerate quite heavy shade.
Rich, moist soils that are free draining and undisturbed are their preference.
Wild strawberries are found across all of the United States and Canadian provinces but do not grow in Hawaii.
The Woodland Strawberry
Although very similar to its cousin, it does have a few differences.
Depending on whereabouts they are located, the woodland strawberry flowers in early spring, between April and June. The appearance of the flower is very similar to the wild (scarlet) strawberry.
In the woodland strawberry, the central tooth at the very tip of the leaf is either longer or at least the same length as the teeth on either side of it.
Woodland strawberry fruits are conical in shape, with the seeds sitting proud of the surface, unlike the wild strawberry, where the shape of the berry is more rounded, and the seeds are embedded.
Woodland strawberries prefer a wetter habitat than wild ones. They thrive in swaps along streams and ditches, in rocky woodlands, and on damp ledges. It needs less sun than the wild strawberry and is often found in partial or even complete shade.
Woodland strawberries are found in all states in America except Alaska, Nevada, and areas of the southwestern states from East Kansas to Florida. They also grow in the southern provinces of Canada.
How To Identify Wild Blackberries?
There are no poisonous look-alikes for blackberries. The only other berry that is similar is the wild black raspberry. This is smaller and sweeter than the blackberry and when you pick it will be hollow like other raspberries.
Blackberries grow in dense thorny thickets, which are usually impassable. They grow to around 13 feet in height and often wind their way through other plants, shrubs, and trees. They are ramblers, not climbers.
The canes of the blackberry plant arch over. The new growth is bright green with sharp, often red, thorns. As they mature, they send out roots where they are touching the ground to create new plants.
A blackberry cane can grow to a length of 40 feet, depending on the species.
The flowers are white or pale pink with five oval petals and a pale green or pale-yellow center. The flowers appear near the tips of the canes.
Blackberry leaves are dark green on top. If you turn them over, they have a slight white fuzz on the back and a row of tiny thorns along the central ridge.
Leaves are usually in sets of three or five leaflets on a central stalk.
The fruits are made up of many small fleshy parts called drupes. When they start to develop from the flowers, they are tiny and pale green. As they grow, they turn white, red, deep purple, and finally black when completely ripe.
Blackberries can quickly take hold in any scrubby areas, along roadsides, abandoned places, meadows, woodland, and hedgerows.
Blackberries are a hardy shrub and grow in zones 5 to 8.
Due to the sharp thorns, be sure to wear protective clothing and eyewear when you’re harvesting them.
How To Identify Wild Blueberries?
Wild Blueberries, just like their store-bought counterparts, are little, dusky, blue-black berries packed full of antioxidant goodness, high in potassium and vitamin C.
Poisonous Berries That Look Like Blueberries
One poisonous berry that can be mistaken for blueberries is Nightshade.
Just like blueberries, nightshade has small dark berries. They grow throughout the United States but, unlike blueberries, are bitter to taste and contain lethal amounts of alkaloid toxins.
There are three common species of wild blueberry in North America. The sour top (Vaccinium myrtilloides) the lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) and the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).
You can find out all about the highbush blueberry in this video:
The larger of the two species is the sour top which grows to heights of six to 24 inches. The lowbush blueberry is smaller, only reaching three to 15 inches tall.
Blueberry flowers can range from light pink to white in color. They grow on thin branches. They have a single bell-type cap, which is quite reminiscent of the fruit in shape, and grow in large clusters.
The leaves of the blueberry bush are broad and green with an elongated oval shape. The tip of the leaf has a defined point. They grow singularly in an alternating pattern along the branch. In fall, the leaves turn a bright red color.
The fruit of the wild blueberry is much the same as that of cultivated ones, only smaller, around ¼ inch in diameter. It is round with a five-pointed cupped crown on the end of the berry, and a dusky blue-black coloration.
When broken open, the fruits contain tiny, soft seeds.
There is a waxy coating on the outside of sour top blueberries, while the coating on the lowbush variety is powdery looking.
Lowbush berries are sweeter than the sour top, as their name implies.
Sour top bushes are usually found in a deciduous woodland setting, while the lowbush variety is generally more prevalent in pastures or open forests.
Although blueberries can be found throughout the U.S., they are more common in New Jersey and Maine. They grow in zones 3 to 6 on the hardiness scale.
There are blue-colored berries that are poisonous. Ensure you check very carefully before eating them and use a guidebook with clear color photographs to make a positive I.D.
Blueberries are best when eaten fully ripe. To test this, give the branches of the bush a gentle shake. The fruit that falls is ripe.
Even though the berries might be blue, it still takes a few more days for them to ripen fully.
How To Identify Wild Raspberries?
Wild raspberries are smaller and have a more rounded appearance than the ones you buy in a store, which sometimes causes confusion when identifying them.
Like other similar berries, raspberries grow on canes. The canes spread by bending over and making new roots where they touch the ground, to produce a new plant. They often form dense thickets.
A healthy bush can get pretty big and may grow to four feet in height and three feet in width.
Blossoms can be found in late spring through to August. They are usually white with five petals but only last for around a day or so. There is also a purple flowering variety which can have flowers that range from pale pink to a deep pinky purple.
While the canes of red raspberry are a cinnamon color, black raspberry canes are purple. They have very fine, prolific thorns that are quite different from the blackberry bush.
The leaves of the raspberry bush are thinner than those of the blackberry. They are an elongated oval shape with a toothed edge. Five to seven leaves are grown on each branch, and in some varieties, the top of the leaf has a hairy appearance.
Wild raspberries are small and round with many drupelets. You will see tiny hairs over the surface of the fruit.
Wild raspberries don’t just come in red; they may also be found in yellow, white, purple, or black.
Fruits appear throughout the summer and often into early fall.
They are a good source of potassium and vitamin C.
You will find raspberry bushes growing along roadsides, in clearings, and mixed woodland.
They like rich, well-drained soil and thrive in full sun or partial shade.
They can be found across the United States in hardiness zones 2 to 7 and also in Canada.
Picking wild berries can be lots of fun, and despite the wild varieties often being smaller than their store-bought counterparts, they usually taste much sweeter.
When you first start foraging, always be sure to take a really good guidebook with you that contains not only detailed color images of the plants you want to pick but the ones you might get confused with too.
Never eat anything you are not 100% certain about!
It is best to stay away from fruits growing on roadsides or any near agricultural land where pesticides or herbicides may have been sprayed.
Don’t forget to leave some of the wild bounty for the animals to enjoy and other foragers too.
There are plenty more articles about foraging available on our website.