Wild and edible fruits of Minnesota
Wild fruits, found in many areas of Minnesota, may be used in food products including jam, jelly, syrup, and sauce. When picking wild fruits, use reliable publications to ensure correct identification of the species you plan to use.
Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
This is a low bush, growing from 6 inches to 2 feet high. It is found in sandy soil, in open woods and clearings. The round, dark-blue berries ripen in July and August. Uses include fresh eating, baked goods, sauce, jam, jelly, and syrup.
Raspberry (Rubus sp.)
This is a low, arching, prickly shrub from 1 to 5 feet high. It is found in thickets, clearings, borders of woods, and along roadsides throughout Minnesota. Raspberries ripen in July. Black raspberries' unripe fruit is first bright red, later turning black and edible. Uses include fresh eating, jam, jelly, sauce, and syrup.
Currant (Ribes sp.)
This is a low shrub, 2 to 5 feet high. It is found in moist places, cool woods, and thickets. The fruit is very sour, round, smooth, and ranges in color from pink to dark red. It ripens in late June and July. It can be used for jelly and jam.
Gooseberry (Ribes sp.)
This is a prickly-stemmed shrub growing from 2 to 5 feet high. It is found in moist places and on upland hills. The fruit is round, prickly, greenish-white to red-purple and ripens in July and August. Uses include sauce, jam, and jelly.
Juneberry (Amelanchier sp.)
This plant is also commonly known as Serviceberry or Saskatoon. It is a shrub or small tree growing 6 to 20 feet high with white 5-petaled blossoms. It is found on the edges of woods, in moist ravines, and in valleys. The fruit, which ripens in late June or July, is round, resembles a blueberry, is red when young, and is purplish or almost black when mature. It can be eaten fresh or used for jam, jelly, and sauce, and also makes a fine beverage.
Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
The common or American elderberry is a shrub growing from 4 to 12 feet tall. It is found in moist soils along roadsides, ditches, streams, and in fields. It has creamy clusters of tiny star-shaped flowers that become round, purplish-black berries in late summer and early fall. The fruit is used for jelly, pies, and wine.
In landscaped situations, black-foliaged varieties of elderberry are sometimes planted. Use the black berries of these plants as you would wild-harvested fruit. Another species sometimes planted as an ornamental is the European elder (Sambucus pubens). This shrub has red fruit that is not edible.
Wild Plum (Prunus americana)
This is a shrub or small tree growing from 3 to 20 feet high. It is found in thickets, along roadsides,pastures, riverbanks, and old farmsteads. The fruit has a sub-acid flavor, is round, red or yellow, and 1/2 inch to 1 inch in diameter. It ripens in August and September. It is used for sauce, pies, jelly, and preserves.
Highbush Cranberry or American Cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum)
This shrub, despite its name, is not a cranberry. Found in cool woods, thickets, and swampy moist areas, it grows from 3 to 10 feet high. Its flowers are white. The round to oblong yellow to dark red berries contain one flat seed and ripen in September. Uncooked, the fruits are sour and bitter. Uses include sauce and jelly.
Many viburnums are planted as ornamentals in the landscape, including the native highbush cranberry and the European cranberrybush (V. opulus). These two species are difficult to distinguish; unfortunately, only the native plant, V. trilobum, bears fruit recommended for human use. The other is a good plant for wildlife. Because a planted shrub could easily be either of these two species, it's best to gather fruit for jelly-making only from the wild, where plants will certainly be the native cranberrybush.
Wild Grape (Vitis riparia)
This is a vine that climbs high into trees with tendrils that wind around twigs. It can be found along streams or in damp, cool woods. The fruit is a cluster of round, juicy, very sour, dark blue berries that ripen in September and October. Uses include juice, jelly, and syrup. The leaves can be used for various middle eastern dishes such as stuffed grape leaves.
Do not confuse Parthenocissus tricuspidata, Boston ivy, with grapevines. Although this plant is similar in appearance and bears small, bluish-black berries, it is not edible. Boston ivy is usually found in landscaped situations, clinging to brick buildings. Wild grapes are nearly always found in the wild, climbing trees.
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)**
This is a tall shrub or small tree growing up to 25 feet high. It can be found throughout Minnesota primarily along roadsides, edges of woods, and upland areas. The fruit is a round, dark-purple berry with an exceedingly astringent taste when fresh. The fruit ripens in July and August. It can be used for jelly, syrup, pies, preserves, and wine.
'Canada Red' is a commonly planted variety of chokecherry in Minnesota landscapes. Its fruit can be used just as wild chokecherries are. One advantage of harvesting fruit from 'Canada Red' trees is that birds have a hard time seeing the ripe fruit against the red leaves, so humans have a chance of harvesting the entire crop.
Sandcherry (Prunus sp.)**
This is a small, bushy shrub growing from 1 to 5 feet high. It is found in sandy, rocky situations throughout Minnesota. The fruit is a round, astringent, somewhat oblong, purple-black berry that ripens in July and August. Uses include sauce and wine. Sandcherries are often planted in Minnesota landscapes, and their fruit is used just as that of wild plants.
Pin Cherry (Prunus pennsylvanica)**
This is a tall shrub or a small tree growing from 20 to 30 feet high with light reddish-brown bark that is aromatic and bitter. It is found in burned-over regions and wooded areas. The berry is round and bright red; has sour, thin flesh; and contains a single seed or pit. It ripens in July and August. Uses include jelly, syrups, and wine.
*Leonard Hertz and Deborah Brown are former Extension Horticulturists.
**When using chokecherries, sandcherries, or pin cherries, extract juice from these fruits without crushing the seeds.
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WW-0113 Reviewed 2007