Red Berries – Edible or Not Edible?

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Video identifying red berries

American Bittersweet – Not Edible

American bittersweet is a perennial vine that wraps itself around trees and any surrounding shrubs. It can grow as long as 15 to 20 feet long. In the fall, the orange to red fruit capsules pop open exposing the red berries inside. They’re very pretty and make lovely decorations, but they are NOT EDIBLE.

The American bittersweet is native to North America, but the copycat look alike – the Asian bittersweet is an introduced invasive species. The Asian bittersweet is very aggressive and actually chokes and kills trees with its vines. For the difference between the Asian and American bittersweet read The Spruce.

Bunchberries – Edible, but Meh

When you head into forested areas, especially where there are conifers (eg. spruce, fir & pine) you’ll come across a common ground covering of bunched berries or little white flowers (early summer). These are called bunchberries, so called because of the tell tale bunch of berries you’ll find clustered together in the center of the plant. Often you’ll find a large grouping of bunchberries.

This relative of the dogwood, only grows 10-20 cm tall. You’ll see a whorl of 4-6 leaves at the top of the plant with the flowers and later the red berries clustered on a stem in the center. The berries are edible, but they’re not that remarkable. They have a sweet, non-descript mealy flavor and are very seedy. In fact one interpretation of the Cree name kawiscowimin is “gravel inside” cause that’s what it sounds and feels like when you eat several. They are not commonly harvested although they do have a high pectin content – beneficial for jam making. They’re also high in Vitamin C – so if stuck in the woods and concerned about scurvy – go ahead and munch on a bunch.

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Here are the white flowers you might see May to early July and a closer look at the leaves.

Often, you’ll see a few bunch berry plants together. You’ll find berries end of July and August.

Evans Cherries/Sour Cherries – Edible

These are Evans cherries and they are edible and delicious. This is a popular sour cherry that was cultivated in Edmonton, AB. They grow on trees that can reach 15 feet. The leaves are a dark green with serrated edges. The cherries are 3/4 inches, bright red and tart. If you’re patient, the cherries will get sweeter and turn a darker red when left on the tree longer. They are typically ripe end of July, early August. Because of their bigger size they’re excellent for pies, baking, canning, freezing, juice or jelly.

It’s not likely you’ll find them in the wild – only in Manitoba backyards.

The University of Saskatchewan has also introduced some new varieties of sour cherries – the sweetest sour cherries you’ll find. The Romance cherry series includes varieties like Romeo, Juliet, Crimson Passion, etc. The cherries are bright red to dark red and ripen at various times from July to August.

Red Baneberries – Not Edible

Do not eat red baneberries. Don’t eat the white or dark blue ones either! They’re very toxic. The berries are so shiny and polished they look fake, like costume jewelry beads. But do not let kids play with them, just admire from afar. The berries are on a long stock that shoots above the bushy plant that has feather saw-toothed leaves. The plant is knee to thigh high.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>