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Edible Wild Winter Berries

December 29, 2010

It is a common misconception that the woods are a barren place in the wintertime, and that anyone lost in them is doomed to starvation. In our southern forests at least, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Yesterday I went for a short walk in the woods to cut some arrow shafts while the sap is still down. During my walk I was amazed, as always, at the abundance that is available if we know what to look for.

One of my favorite arrow woods is Huckleberry. Huckleberry is a shrub that rarely exceeds ten feet. It has a shaggy but close fitting bark that is gray brown in color. Huckleberries usually grow in thickets and they have an interesting, gnarled appearance like oversized Japanese bonsai trees. Pictured below: A Huckleberry Bush

They have no thorns. The leaves of the huckleberry are about an inch long, shinny green, and oval shaped with smooth edges. There are male Huckleberry bushes and female Huckleberry bushes. Even in mid-winter the female bushes are loaded with small pea-sized blue/black berries. The Huckleberry is in fact a relative of our domestic blueberry. So while you are cutting some of those nice straight shoots for arrow shafts, it is only the work of a few minutes to fill up your hat with these tangy little fruits. Pictured below: Huckleberries, notice how they look like small blueberries. Pictured below: Huckleberries in Early Fall

Another abundant winter fruit is the Hackberry which is found on the Hackberry Elm tree. Hackberry Elms are similar to other elms except that the Hackberry Elm has an extremely knotty, wart like appearance to the bark. Pictured below: Hackberry Elm Bark

The Hackberry Elm is covered with pea-sized black berries throughout the winter. Hackberries have a black outer skin, a thin layer of yellow/brown pulp, and a large seed. Eat the skin and pulp and spit out the seed. There is not much pulp in each berry, but the pulp is very sweet; and if you have located a good sized tree you will have thousands of berries to munch on. Pictured below: Hackberries in Winter

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