Edible wild berries and fruit are some of the most rewarding things to find when you’re out foraging wild edible plants. Unlike roots and greens, wild berries and fruits often don’t require preparation and cooking. That makes them very accessible for beginners and provide a sweet bit of instant gratification.
Wild fruits within the same genus tend to prefer similar habitats, which means when you stumble onto a patch of wild berries there are likely other similar tasty edibles nearby. This fall my children and I harvested 23 different species of wild berries and fruits on one two hour hike. That same day we also came across 4 different nut species, and nearly a dozen edible and medicinal mushroom species.
Our world really is just bursting with wild edibles, provided you know where to look…
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good foraging challenge. I’ll happily dive into cooking up thorny bull thistle plants or processing bark into flour, but sometimes the most satisfying things to forage are those that you can pop right into your mouth without a fuss.
There are few things that beat the deep, rich, sweet flavor of a saskatoon berry and most years wild apples can be harvested by the truckload in rural areas with little effort.
Still, you don’t have to be out in the sticks to harvest wild fruit. Native edible berries are a favorite for landscape plantings in strip mall parking lots since they often are low maintenance, have showy spring blossoms and attract songbirds all summer long. These very same fruits are prime candidates for urban foraging too!
These days, most of my foraging is done with my two young pre-schoolers along for the adventure, and when you’re foraging with kids, wild berries are always a winner.
Knowing there are wild berries growing in the parking lot will get a reluctant toddler to head for the car, and there’s nothing that’ll motivate an impromptu hike like the promise of thimbleberries. Sometimes you’ve gotta use every trick in the book when rangling the world’s most stubborn two-year-old, and I’d rather bribe with tasty wild edibles than just about anything else in the world…
List of Edible Wild Berries & Fruit
If you’re just looking for a list of edible wild fruit to add to your foraging bucket list, I’ve got you covered. The list below covers all the edible wild berries and wild fruits that I know, and each is covered in detail in its own section. If I’ve missed any that you know, please leave me a note in the comments as I’m always excited to learn about new wild edible plants.
- Apples and Crabapples (Malus sp.)
- Aronia Berries or Chokeberries (Aronia sp.)
- Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)
- Barberry (Berberis sp.)
- Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
- Blackberry (Rubus sp.)
- Blackcaps or Black Raspberries (Rubus occidentalis & R. leucodermis)
- Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
- Blueberry (Vaccinium sect. Cyanococcus sp.)
- Buffalo Berry (Shepherdia sp.)
- Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
- Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
- Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)
- Cranberry (Vaccinium Subgenus Oxycoccus sp.)
- Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum)
- Currants (Ribes sp.)
- Dewberries (Rubus flagellaris)
- Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
- Fairy Bell (Prosartes sp.)
- Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa)
- Grape (Vitus sp.)
- Groundcherry (Physalis sp.)
- Guelder Rose, Highbush Cranberry or Squashberry (Viburnum oplus, V. trilobum or V. edule)
- Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
- Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.)
- Huckleberry (Gaylussacia sp. and Vaccinium sp.)
- Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides or V. alnifolium, V. grandifolium)
- Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense)
- Mock Strawberry or Indian Strawberry (Duchesnea indica)
- Mountain Ash or Rowan Berry (Sorbus sp.)
- Mulberry (Morus sp.)
- Nannyberry or Sheepberry (Viburnum lentago)
- Oregon Grape(Mahonia aquifolium)
- Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)
- Passion fruit (Passiflora sp.)
- Pawpaw (Asimina sp.)
- Persimmon (Diospyros sp.)
- Pin Cherries (Prunus pensylvanica)
- Plums (Prunus americana)
- Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia sp.)
- Raspberry (Rubus sp.)
- Red Blackberries (Rubus pubescens)
- Rose Hips (Rosa sp.)
- Salal (Gaultheria shallon)
- Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
- Saskatoons or Serviceberries (Amelanchier Sp.)
- Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)
- Solomon’s Plume or False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
- Strawberry (Fragaria sp.)
- Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens)
- Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus and R. odoratus)
- Witherod or Northern Wild Raisin (Viburnum cassinoides or V. nudum)
(Keep in mind, while there are pictures and descriptions of each edible wild berry species, this is not an identification guide. It’s a jumping-off point, to help open your eyes to the abundance of wild fruit available. Please do your own research to make sure you can positively ID each plant species before attempting to consume any wild berries, and know that there are sometimes poisonous look-alikes depending on the species.)
Apples and Crabapples (Malus Sp.)
Wild apples are some of the easiest fruits to identify in the landscape. For the most part, wild apple trees look a lot like domestic apple trees…only a bit wilder. Without pruning and tending, their growth form tends to be much less uniform. Similarly, without fruit thinning in the spring they often produce huge crops, but the fruits are usually smaller since the tree only has so much energy to go around.
Since apples don’t come true to seed, every chance seedling is a different variety. That means that each wild apple will have a unique flavor, for better or worse. Some may be sour or acidic, while others may be heavy on tannins. For that reason, wild apples make some of the best hard cider since a good batch requires a balance of flavors, rather than just the sweetness in modern domestic apples.
The crab apple varieties can be very small, varying from the size of a golfball down to the size of a pea. Many are only good for jellies, but many have excellent flavor.
Aronia Berries (Aronia Sp.)
Aronia is a genus including two or possibly three species of edible wild berries. Originally called chokeberries, they’re now getting attention as a new “superfood” because of their high antioxidant content. Black and Red chokeberries are well-defined species, and the third is a little less clear. It’s called Purple Aronia and it may just be a natural hybrid of the black and red varieties.
Aronia melanocarpa ~ Commonly known as black chokeberry, savvy marketers call this native fruit “Aronia berries” and you can find their juice bottled up in the “superfood” section of most health food stores.
Native fruit in the eastern half of the US and Canada (range map here). They’re actually quite tasty despite their common name. They have a deep, red wine-like flavor with hints of blueberry…subtly sweet, and just a bit bitter.
Aronia berries also come in other colors (red, for example) but it’s generally agreed that the black ones are the best tasting. If you think you’ve found them, here’s everything you need to know about identifying and using Black Aronia berries.
Aronia arbutifolia ~ Known as Red Chokeberry or Red Aronia, they’re not nearly as tasty as their cousin black chokeberries in my opinion. Their growth habit and range are similar, but the berries are much smaller and brilliant red color. I found them dry and mealy, which is a stark contrast to the juice-filled mild sweetness of black Aronia.
None the less, still an edible wild berry that’s relatively common all along the Eastern US.
Aronia Prunifolia ~ Called purple aronia, most people think this is actually a hybrid of the black and red varieties rather than a unique species.
Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)
Considered an invasive plant in many areas, autumn olive is just darn good at getting by in neglected areas. Roadsides and other neglected areas are the perfect places to find autumn olive, along with anywhere else a bird might have carried the seed.
The fruits are small, about 1/4 inch in diameter and oblong or round. Ripe autumn olives are juicy and sweet, and they can be eaten fresh or processed into jams. The fruits apparently contain a substantial amount of lycopene and have been used as a tomato substitute in autumn olive ketchup, which I’ve yet to try.
Autumn olive plants don’t come true to seed, and they’re considerable variation in wild specimens. Some aren’t nearly as sweet as others, so if you find a particularly tasty bush, mark that spot for years to come!
Barberry (Berberis sp.)
The native species of Barberry (Berberis canadensis) is reasonably common from New England down to Georgia and west to Texas. More likely though, you’ll find the imported European barberry (B. vulgaris) or Japanese barberry (B. thunbergii) which were introduced as hedge plants, and escaped into the wild as birds carried their bright red fruits.
Japanese barberry is incredibly common, and it’s found at woodland edges across the country. Anywhere that gets at least part sun, and has a good perch above for a bird to land and drop the seed. In the fall, the bright red berries are hand to miss, and the foliage turns a beautiful red color as well.
The wild berries of barberry plants are quite pulpy and reasonably tart, but still decent for fresh eating. They’re better as a jelly, and they contain plenty of natural pectins so all you’ll need is the fruit and a bit of sugar.
The rest of the year, you’re more likely to find barberry by its sharp spines, as they catch a pant leg or scratch along your skin. They’re pretty painful, and good at getting your attention.
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
The latin name uva-ursi means “bear grape” which is more or less how bearberry gets its common name. The fruits grow on low growing plants and arise in grape-like clusters that are commonly eaten by bears. The fruits themselves are more like cranberries than grapes, and they’re often used in herbal medicine preparations for urinary tract issues in much the same way as cranberry fruit.
I keep uva ursi tincture on hand as a treatment for UTI’s, and it’s been very effective for me if taken at the first hint of an issue.
It was called Kinnikinnick by first nations peoples, a word that means smoking herb, since the plant was commonly used in a traditional smoking mixture. It also goes by the names mealberry, sandberry, mountain-box, fox-plum, hog-crawberry, and barren myrtle.
Bearberry can be found in Northern latitudes around the world, and it’s present throughout much of the US (range map here).
Blackberry (Rubus sp.)
Perfect for beginning foragers, blackberries often bear huge crops in the late summer. Blackberries are easy to identify simply because most people already know what they look like, and nothing else really looks like a blackberry. The dense thorny brambles are a dead give away in any case.
The only blackberry look-alikes out there are other edible rubus species, like dewberries, which taste quite similar anyway.
When you’re harvesting wild blackberries by the gallon, have canning jars ready at home to make blackberry jam or simple canned whole blackberries. Of course, they’re always blackberry wine for the more adventurous…
Blackcaps or Black Raspberries (Rubus occidentalis & R. leucodermis)
Blackcaps are closely related to both wild blackberries and wild raspberries, but they have a flavor all of their own. The plants grow differently as well, and they’re generally branching and bushy rather than the arching canes of blackberries.
The thorns are generally much smaller than blackberry thorns, and the fruits have a hollow center (like the empty, thimble-like fruits of raspberries).
Wild black raspberries grow wild throughout the northeast, and there’s a wester strain known as Rubus leucodermis that has similar fruit out west.
Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
The small fruits of wild black cherry are a real treat, but it can be tricky to harvest them. Black cherries grow in clusters, much like chokecherries, but while chokecherries grow on bushes, these plants are full-sized trees. Imagine trying to beat the birds to these sweet fruits 30 to 50 feet up in the air.
I’ve had a bit of luck harvesting from coppiced black cherry trees growing at the edges of hayfields. They were chopped by the hay mower several times while young, which means they re-sprouted with many smaller trunks. Eventually, they grew into stunted trees with 8 to 12 trunks and a more bushy habit.
I’ve heard in the south that the crops are so large that the fruits often drop to the forest floor before the birds can devour them, and you can collect substantial harvests on the ground.
Wild black cherry bark is made into a herbal cough syrup, but it can be tricky to process it correctly. If the bark isn’t dried immediately after harvest, some of the compounds ferment and change to toxic forms. While I forage the wild fruits, I still buy the black cherry cough syrup when I need it because I worry I won’t process it correctly.
Blueberry (Vaccinium sect. Cyanococcus sp.)
When people think about wild blueberries, most minds go to the famous wild Maine blueberries that grow on lowbush plants and are harvested with combs. Those teeny little berries have become synonymous with wild blueberries, but there are actually quite a few wild blueberry species, many of which are highbush like the average garden blueberry.
Wild blueberries are in a genus called Vaccinium, and there are enough species of wild blueberries that they’re actually grouped into a subsection within the genus known as cyanococcus. From there, you can harvest more than a dozen species of wild blueberries.
The Vaccinum group also contains some of the most well known wild edible berries including cranberries, lingonberry, and huckleberry. They’re most commonly limited to acidic soils, and pine barrens are among the best places to find them.
Since they prefer very specific soils, they’re often found growing together and it’s not uncommon to find multiple varieties growing all at one site.
Wild blueberry foliage looks more or less identical to cultivated blueberry leaves, and the fruit, at least in my experience, is usually found hiding under the branches…but not always. Sometimes they just hang out in plain sight along the edge of hiking trails.
Buffalo Berry (Shepherdia sp.)
Buffalo berries are closely related to Autumn olive and Sea Buckthorn. It’s capable of fixing nitrogen directly from the air, just like those other two closely related edible wild berries, which means it can thrive in marginal soils and can be somewhat invasive.
The growth pattern is very similar as well, with red berries closely attached to the stem of vigorous bushes.
There are three species of buffalo berries, and they’re all quite similar but separated by region. Though one species is supposedly present in far northern VT, I’ve yet to find any buffaloberries in the wild. From what I’ve read, they’re far more common in the North Central and Western US.
- Shepherdia canadensis ~ Known as Canadian Buffaloberry, Bull Berry, Silver Buffalo Berry, and thorny buffaloberry, this species is common across all of Canada and the far northern US, as well as the Western US. (Range Map)
- Shepherdia argentea ~ Native to the North Central and Western US, (Range Map) and very similar to Canadian buffaloberry.
- Shepherdia rotundifolia ~ Only present in Arizona and Utah, this species presents a bit differently with round leaves. (Range Map)
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
When a friend first introduced me to bunchberries, he described them as “a survival food worth knowing about, but thoroughly unpleasant.” I tried them anyway, and honestly, I find them absolutely delicious.
Bunchberries are quite sweet, which is refreshing when you spend your time foraging tart sea buckthorn and Aronia. Beyond the sweetness, there’s not much flavor at all.
While their flavor is mild and sweet, the texture is what turns people off. They contain a lot of mucilage, and they’ve been used historically as a pectin source to naturally thicken jams before the advent of commercial pectin. All that mucilage makes them a bit, well…mucus-like.
You’ll know it when you try them, but honestly, I don’t mind it. I forage other mucilaginous plants like wild violets and marshmallow plants, and I think the delicious sweetness more than makes up for any texture issues.
Texture be darned, my kids really go nuts for them. Perhaps it’s because they’re low growing, just a few inches off the ground and right at their level.
Or perhaps it’s because they’re really abundant, growing in colonies tightly packed together. Or perhaps it’s just because they’re mild and sweet. Whatever the reason, they’re really popular in my house.
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
Also called bitter berry and bird berry, the common names don’t really sell chokecherries. If you look back historically though, they’re one of the most widely used native berries by Native American peoples across the country. They’re a part of a number of traditional recipes, including pemmican, which was a staple of native peoples and fir trappers on the frontier.
The problem with chokecherries is that they’re bitter until they’re dead ripe. At that point, the bitterness fades and they’re actually really delicious eaten fresh off the plant. The fruits start out bright red, but ripen to near black.
That said, they’re even better when they’re prepared using the traditional methods. Each chokecherry only has a small amount of edible flesh around a large pit, and the raw pits contain toxins, just like most stone fruits (plums, peaches, etc). The pit is nutrient-dense like an almond, but not much use with the toxin present.
Traditionally, the fruits were pounded (pit and all) into a paste that was formed into patties and dried in the sun. Sun-drying eliminates the toxin and means that you get both sweet edible fruit and nutritious edible nut in one harvest. These dried patties were then used in cooking, often broken up into pieces for use in pemmican (basically meat jerky patties with fruit and lard) or a chokecherry jam/pudding dish known as wojapi.
Beyond that, chokecherries make an excellent fruit jelly and a lovely fruit wine.
Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)
A staple for boreal foragers, cloudberries are only present in the far north. While I think of Vermont as right in the heart of the north woods, it’s not northerly enough for this fruit. In the world, it’s only really present in Canada and some parts on Maine (Range Map), but it’s well known in Scandinavian countries.
Someday perhaps I’ll forage further north, but until then, I’d suggest this guide to foraging cloudberries if you happen to find yourself in the far north.
Cranberry (Vaccinium Subgenus Oxycoccus sp.)
Most only know of cranberries as a jelly that dresses the holiday table, but they’re a tasty wild berry that you can forage just as well. Cranberries are reasonably easy to grow, and they grow wild in wet, acidic soils.
Cranberries freeze well in our modern freezers, but they also freeze well under snow cover in the wild. It’s possible to harvest wild cranberries in the early spring just as the snow melts. They’re soft after the thaw, but they’re still tasty as the day they were frozen.
Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum)
I’ll admit this is a new one for me, and I only just recently read about them. They’re present in boreal regions, all of Canada/Alaska, the pacific northwest and some parts of the Northeastern US. They’re a type of fruiting heather that’s a spreading ground cover.
A bit of research shows they like acidic soil and shady, moist environments. I’ve also found that they were an important winter food source for both the Sami (in northern Sweeden) and the Inuit peoples in Alaska.
I’m adding this one to my foraging “bucket list” but I know I’ll have to travel a bit north to find them.
Currants (Ribes sp.)
Vigorous, heavy cropping wild fruits that bear delicious edible wild berries in full shade and wet soils? Could it be true?
Currants are a forest farmer’s dream come true and they bear heavy crops where it just seems downright impossible. While they’re commonly cultivated these days, they’re also a tasty woodland edible berry that thrives in full shade without care.
Blackcurrants are by far the most vigorous, and they’re what you’ll likely find in the wild. Red, white and pink currants are also sometimes found.
Dewberries (Rubus flagellaris)
Also known as trailing blackberries, these low-growing edible wild berries are surprisingly common. If you happen across blackberries that seem to trail across the ground without thorny arching cranes, it’s actually likely that you’ve found wild dewberries instead.
The downside of dewberries is that they don’t generally crop heavily, and they’re not as juicy or sweet as wild blackberries.
That said, they grow in some marginal areas that just don’t support larger fruits. Dewberries range from Central to Eastern US, and Texas to Canada (Range Map).
Elderberries (Sambucus nigra)
Best known for their medicinal benefits, wild elderberries are a staple of immune-boosting herbal tonics. While herbalists often use convenient dried elderberries in preparations, fresh ones are abundant in the wild.
They ripen in early to Mid September in Vermont, but my west coast foraging friends tell me they harvest elderberries in June. It all depends on your climate.
Elderberries generally set fruit about 2-3 months after they flower, and wild elderberry flowers are distinctive and hard to miss. The blossoms of elderberry are edible flowers, and they’re used in things like elderflower cordial.
Fairy Bell (Prosartes sp.)
A member of the Lilly family, fairy bell plants produce edible berries about the size of a grape. There are a number of species, each with somewhat different morphology and distribution. Several are native to the pacific northwest and west/Central Canada, and a few are native to southern and central Appalachia.
None happen to thrive as far north as the Northeastern US. This breakdown of species will tell you which fairy bell you might have in your area.
The flavor of fairy bell fruit is described as bland, but sweet.
Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa)
One of the strangest looking wild fruits, finding wild gooseberries always brings a smile to my face. The spikey globe-like fruits just seem downright improbable, but there they are, hanging along many a shady path. Gooseberries prefer wet shady areas, and they’re reasonably common along wet areas of hiking trails in the woods.
The spikes on the fruit are all show, and you can eat them easy enough. The spines on the plant stems, on the other hand, aren’t messing around. It’s like tangling with a rose bush. Harvest gooseberries carefully.
Grapes (Vitus sp.)
Wild grapes are one of the easiest wild fruits to spot, largely because they’re very similar to domestic grapes. Often much smaller and quite tart, they’re not great fresh.
Still, it’s hard to beat wild grape wine or simple wild grape jelly.
Groundcherry (Physalis sp.)
Also known as husk cherries or cape gooseberries, ground cherry plants have a bright orange fruit inside a papery husk. They grow wild as a perennial plant in most of the southern US and Mexico, and they’re an annual garden crop up here in the Northeast.
We grow ground cherries in our garden every year, and the birds steal some to spread the seed. As a result, we find plenty of wild volunteers growing around our land, often fruiting in dense hayfields without an issue. The plants are really vigorous, and where they can’t grow as perennials they’ll find a way to grow wild as self-seeding annuals.
Guelder Rose or Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum oplus, V. trilobum or V. edule)
Highbush cranberry is a great name for these edible viburnum fruits. They taste like cranberries, more or less, but they grow on large bushes and have a single large green flat seed.
Historically the bark was used as a cramp treatment, and to help prevent miscarriage, giving the plant another common name “crampbark.”
There are a lot of common and Latin names for this fruit, largely because there are both European and US species, and they’ve interbred in the wild to create a mish-mash of characteristics. The Latin names have gotten a bit confused, and honestly, I’m not even sure what the best choice is.
Whatever you call it, this is an easy to identify and tasty wild fruit that makes a lovely jam or juice.
Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
While the name is uninspiring, hackberries are an incredibly sweet wild fruit that’s more or less a fruit and nut packed into one. Twisted tree nursery describes them well:
“Hackberries have a thin, very sweet purple skin surrounding a crunchy shell with a tiny nut inside. All hackberries are edible and highly nutritious. They have been consumed by humans for millennia and are one of the first known foods that humans have eaten and stored. Caches of hackberries have been found in ancient cave sites. It is no wonder that early people were eating hackberries. They are high in fat, protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins. Hackberries are almost like a hybrid between a nut and a berry. They are a versatile, power-packed food.
The flavor will vary from tree to tree, but in general, they are sweet, tasty, and crunchy. Some are thin-shelled and have the consistency of a peanut m&m, others are much harder. They can be so crunchy at times that it is hard to chew them. This crunchiness is best overcome with a little processing. Smash the berries in a mortar and pestle or with a couple of blocks of wood. The more crushed up, the better. You can then take the mash and form it into any shape. It will keep quite well stored at room temperature and makes an excellent trail food.”
Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.)
Sometimes called thorn apple, hawthorn fruits resemble crabapples and grow on trees that look almost like wild apples…but with large thorns. The thorns can be several inches long, and are extremely sharp, so use caution when foraging hawthorn.
The leaves are also distinctive and look nothing like apple leaves. The leaves are also edible, and it’s said that they were eaten so commonly in Britain in times past that they’re called “bread and cheese” as though eating hawthorn leaves were as common as bread and cheese on the table. I’ve tried them around here and I didn’t find them particularly appealing, but perhaps the European species taste better.
The quality of these wild fruits varies greatly from tree to tree, and many have bitter fruit that’s not palatable raw. I’ve found a few wild specimens that have lovely, flavorful fruit with a mild sweetness, so it all depends.
Generally, hawthorn fruits are not eaten fresh, but rather made into hawthorn jelly or used in herbal medicine preparations. There’s a lot of research that validates hawthorn’s use for heart health. It’s taken either as a whole plant tincture with the leaves, flowers, and fruit, or as a syrup made from the hawthorn fruit.
Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides or V. alnifolium, V. grandifolium)
Another edible viburnum, along with highbush cranberry, wild raisin, and nannyberry. Hobblebush grows a bit differently than the others, with a sprawling habit and gigantic leaves. I found my first one in late summer, and as soon as I had my eye tuned to them I found hundreds of hobblebushes by early fall when the edible berries ripen.
The gigantic leaves make the plants look like young linden trees to the casual glance, but watch closely and you’ll see them develop clusters of berries. The berries start out yellow/red and ripen to black late in the year, usually after the first frosts.
Each hobbleberry is a mass of very sweet pulp that tastes a bit like prunes and molasses, as well as a large flat seed similar to other edible viburnum species.
Huckleberry (Gaylussacia sp. and Vaccinium sp.)
A number of huckleberry species can be found in the wild, mostly in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. The fruits are sweet and resemble blueberries. Some varieties also grow in the northeast, and the eastern species are usually Gaylussacia genus. There’s even one species that grows in Vermont (Gaylussacia baccata).
They’re also called bilberry, whortleberry, or hurtleberry, and they come in both blue, black and red varieties.
Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense)
Also known as Canada Mayflower, these little woodland plants in the Lilly family pop up in the early spring. We used to jokingly call them “bass lillies” because they are often found in the same spots as trout lilies and they’re about the same size. Each plant produces a stalk of tiny white flowers that eventually becomes bright red berries in the early fall.
They’re closely related to Solomon’s plume, and which is also in the Maianthemum genus, and the berries go through that same characteristic red/white/pink speckled coloration before eventually ripening to a bright red.
Each mayflower stalk only has a few berries, but they’re really delicious, and the plants often grow in mass together.
Mock Strawberry or Indian Strawberry (Duchesnea indica)
Sometimes called false strawberries, these little straberry look-alikes also happen to be edible. Edible doesn’t mean tasty, and they more or less taste like nothing to my palate.
Rest assured though, if your little ones eat these mock strawberries they may be disappointed, but they’re safe.
Mountain Ash or Rowan Berry (Sorbus sp.)
It’s hard to miss the bright red fruit clusters of Mountain Ash in the Fall months. The fruit are mildly sweet and somewhat bitter, meaning they’re not the best for fresh eating. One bite and you’ll do a double take, asking “are you sure these are edible fruit…?” There’s a big difference between edible and tasty.
Rowan berries tend to hang on the trees well into winter, long after leaves have dropped. You’ll see the telltale clusters swaying in the wind, supporting tiny mounds of snow.
Though they’ve been used as food since ancient times in Europe, cooking with rowanberries takes an adventurous spirit. If you’re interested, forager chef has an excellent guide to cooking with rowanberries, along with many unique recipes.
Mulberry (Morus sp.)
Blackberries that grow on trees? Could it be true? If you find a blackberry tree you’re actually looking at a wild mulberry.
They can be a bit tricky to identify unless covered with fruit because there’s great variation in leaf shapes, not only within the species, but on individual trees. You’ll see many different leaf shapes all coming from the same branch.
Wild mulberries come in purple and white varieties. The white varieties don’t sain fingers and clothes, but they also tend to have a good bit less flavor. Know that if you’re foraging mulberries, everything from your fingers to your mouth and clothes will be purple, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Nannyberry or Sheepberry (Viburnum lentago)
Nannyberries are a bit unique as an edible wild berry. They’re actually a starchy fruit, a bit more like a banana than the juicy fruits we’re used to. The fruits come in clusters, and there’s a sweet pulp surronding a large, flat seed.
The taste of nannyberries is a bit hard to describe, somewhat like banana/prunes/raisins and very sweet. If you put the berries through a fruit strainer to remove the seeds, you’ll be left with something that’s thick like pudding and you could rest a spoon on it.
Nannyberries prefer wet, clay soils and some shade. They can often be found along stream banks and in shady spots around ponds. They’re beautiful, with striking flowers, which means they’re sometimes used in landscape plantings in drainage ditches.
The fruits start off yellow, then turn a bright pink before fully ripening to a dark blue/black. Not your average wild berry, but definitely delicious and worth the effort.
(Note there are several other edible viburnum species that are very similar to nannyberries, and I haven’t listed them all individually because their main difference is in their native range. But if you’re curious, take a look at Southern Blackhaw or Rusty Blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) as well as Stagberry (Viburnum prunifolium).
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
A common woodland edible fruit, Oregon grapes have small purple fruits and holly-like leaves. They’re common in the pacific northwest (range map), where they’ve been used by native peoples as a food source for millennia.
They’re not really grapes, though they grow in groups that somewhat resemble grapes. A more descriptive common name that’s also used is Hollyleaf Barberry, but that’s not nearly as catchy.
The fruits themselves are very tart, so they’re often mixed with sweeter fruits. My friend Devon makes an Oregon grape curd that sounds spectacular and uses the natural tart flavor to balance an otherwise sweet curd sauce.
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)
A creeping woodland groundcover, partridge berries are a fun find deep in the woods, along hiking trails or near shady stream banks. They also go by the name squaw berry and were commonly used by indigenous peoples in combination with acorn flour in pancake-like breads.
The berries ripen very late, and here in Vermont they’re only just beginning to turn red in early October. The fruits will persist under the snow all winter long, and I’ve harvested them on winter foraging trips when the snow melted away in patches.
They look an awful lot like teaberries, but while teaberries have a strong wintergreen flavor, partridgeberries are mild and just barely sweet.
Passion fruit (Passiflora sp.)
I remember the first time I came across a passionflower vine growing wild near my childhood home in Southern California. It was climbing a fence at the edge of an aqueduct, thriving without care or attention. The gigantic, exotic-looking flowers are hard to miss.
Pawpaw (Asimina sp.)
I really long to find wild pawpaw, but most are only hardy to zone 5 and won’t survive our harsh Vermont winters. They’re common in the wild all along the east coast, from Massachusetts south.
I’ve read that they taste really tropical, and have a smooth texture like a banana.
Persimmon (Diospyros sp.)
Like the pawpaw, these soft orange fruits are only hardy to zone 5. They’re another delicious native fruit, but unlike pawpaws, cultivated varieties are readily available in grocery stores. That means more people have heard of and use persimmons, and they’re easily recognizable growing as wild fruits.
Wild persimmons are much smaller than the cultivated varieties, but the trees are prolific. They ripen in November across their range.
Pin Cherries (Prunus pensylvanica)
The name pin cherry is a great descriptor for these small wild cherries. They’re smaller than a pea, and they grow individually from trees, perfect for birds to pick off with their beaks.
While pin cherries are easy to harvest for birds, they’re a bit more tricky for humans. It takes a while to collect a good-sized harvest of pin cherries, but with a little dedication, you can harvest them by the bucketful.
Pin cherries are a pioneer species, and they can grow on sterile abused soil and in straight rocky gravel without added fertility. They’re fast-growing and bird spread, which means they pop up quickly after disturbances near construction sites and gravel pits.
The trees can reach 8 to 10 feet in just 2-3 years, and begin baring at that point.
As with many wild fruits, the taste is variable. Sometimes pin cherries are quite bitter, but the ones we have growing around here taste like cultivated tart cherries, only much smaller.
Plums (Prunus americana)
Finding my first patch of wild plums was really exciting. I had no idea that plums just grew in thickets, baring buckets of small fruit without attention or care.
Wild plums don’t come true to seed, and each one will have a slightly different flavor (like wild apples). Some are downright delicious, and some are bitter and astringent.
Generally, they’re much smaller than cultivated plums, and look more like very large cherries.
Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia sp.)
I grew up harvesting these out of my grandfather’s back yard in the high desert of Kern County, California. I’d always assumed they were a desert plant that wouldn’t grow far outside the Mojave, but I recently learned that there’s an east coast variety that’s hardy to zone 5.
The cold-hardy variety can be found growing wild in sandy outcroppings as far north as Massachusetts!
Both the wild fruits and cactus paddles are edible, and we’re hoping to grow some as perennial vegetables here on our homestead in Vermont in the next few years.
The seedy fruits are especially tasty strained and cooked into prickly pear jelly.
Raspberry (Rubus sp.)
Few people need an introduction to the wild edible berries of raspberries. They more or less look like cultivated raspberry fruits, though generally smaller.
I find they often have a lot more flavor, but less sweetness than their domesticated cousins.
Red Blackberries (Rubus pubescens)
There are literally hundreds of edible rubus species besides the best known species, blackberry, and raspberry. I’m choosing a few to call out that are especially common and/or tasty, and red blackberries happen to be both.
This low-growing rubus species carpets woodlands in the northern half of the US and all of Canada (Range Map), and though each plant only sends up a single flower and produces a single berry, they grow in colonies covering large areas of ground. That means it’s possible to collect large amounts of these sweet, flavorful fruit.
They go by a lot of names…plumboy, red blackberry, dwarf red blackberry, dwarf red raspberry or the most confusing…dewberry, which is the common name for a number of other rubus species. Dewberry seems to be the catch-all name for all low-growing raspberry-like or blackberry-like fruits.
Rose Hips (Rosa sp.)
Roses produce more than just beautiful flowers, they also produce edible fruit. Wild roses, in particular, are a good choice because domestic roses tend to be a chemical-laden crop.
Wild roses, on the other hand, are incredibly vigorous and some are even considered invasive. Since they’ve had to compete with other wild fruits for seed dispersal, wild rose hips tend to be large to attract the attention of animals passing by.
The flavor of rose hips varies greatly by plant, and some have sweet flesh that’s almost apple-like in flavor. Inside the pulpy flesh, there’s a number of small seeds that have irritating hairs on the outside. That’s the rose plant’s way of encouraging you to eat the brightly colored red fruit, and toss the seeds aside for the next generation.
There are techniques for eating the seeds, but you’ll harvest bigger crops in the long run if you just eat the rosehip flesh and disperse the seeds along your way.
Salal (Gaultheria shallon)
Native to the pacific northwest, salal berries are a niche regional treat. The fruit are quite sweet, but mealy.
Indigenous peoples mashed them into cakes, and commonly mixed them with other fruits such as oregon grape. Oregon grapes are tart, but have a better texture, so the two make a good combination.
Salal berry leaves are also medicinal, and according to my friend Colleen who writes about foraging salal:
“The leaves are astringent and anti-inflammatory. Salal leaves have historically been used medicinally by Native Americans for a range of things, including respiratory ailments, digestion, and as a poultice.”
Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
Yet another edible rubus species similar to raspberries, salmonberries have a striking color crazy looking texture, that more or less looks like bunches of salmon eggs.
Salmonberries are quite tart, and they have very large seeds (bitter than other related species). For this reason, they’re most commonly made into jellies where the seeds are strained out and a significant amount of sugar is added.
Their color ranges from yellow/orange to bright red.
Saskatoon Berries (Amelanchier Sp.)
Known as Serviceberries, Shadbush, Juneberries or Saskatoons, they’re like blueberries that grow on trees. Here in Vermont, the plants blossom right around our last frost date, when the soil can be reliably worked and the garden planted.
Their name “serviceberry” actually stems from the fact that historically, once these bloom in the spring the soils are thawed and you can begin holding funeral services and burying the dead from the past winter (or so I’m told by a few old Vermonters).
The flavor is out of this world, like a blueberry on steroids and by far my favorite of any wild foraged fruit. In my mind, they’re the perfect fruit with a flavor that puts all domestic fruit to shame.
The problem is, it’s hard for humans to pick small blueberry-like fruit growing on 30 ft tall trees…but it’s very easy for birds. Just as soon as saskatoons begin to turn pink the birds spot them and often strip the plants long before the fruit actually ripen to a deep blue/purple.
In some areas, especially in the northernmost regions, they come in so heavy that the birds can’t keep up and you can get a decent harvest from the shorter trees.
There are many different species of saskatoon, and with species mostly differentiated by region, but various kinds are found in most parts of the US and Canada.
Beyond those found in the wild, serviceberries are often planted in ornamental plantings, especially in the Northeastern US. Their beautiful flowers in the spring mean they’re well appreciated by landscapers, and the birds largely harvest the delicious fruit. They’re a common sight in parking lot plantings around public buildings and grocery stores in our area.
Serviceberries ripen to a deep purple/blue, but it’s hard to find them completely ripe in the wild. I often harvest them a bit pink, and they’re still exceptional.
Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)
Also known as sea berries, this bright orange wild berry is native to Eastern Europe. It’s commonly cultivated for a highly nutritious juice, and it’s gained recent fame as a new “superfood” rediscovered from our long lost food traditions.
Permaculturists love it because sea buckthorn is a nitrogen-fixing shrub, which means it can grow on marginal soils and improves them in the process. It’s incredibly vigorous, high-yielding and bordering on invasive. In fact, it is actually listed as an invasive species in a few places.
The bright orange oval berries are a dead give away, along with the silver foliage that’s similar to other closely related wild edible berries, namely Autumn Olive and Buffalo Berry.
Solomon’s Plume or False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
There’s something about the word “false” in a common name that makes you think “poisonous.” In many cases though, it’s just the plant that was discovered second. False Solomon’s seal, also known as Solomon’s plume, treacleberry, feathery false lily of the valley and false spikenard has a lot of “false” common names but none the less it’s a tasty edible wild berry.
The plant produces a plume of beautiful white flowers in the spring, which form into distinctive red/white speckled fruit as they ripen. Finally, they all turn a brilliant red when they fully ripen.
Each fruit is quite sweet, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite wild fruits. They taste a bit warm, like molasses and I’m thinking they’d make a spectacular sauce or jelly without much need for added sugar. The fruits are just a small amount of sweet flesh around a large white seed, so yields are low but definitely worth it in my book.
The berries of “true” Solomon’s seal are poisonous, but while the plants look similar, the fruits are nothing alike. They’re produced under the foliage instead of at the end, and they’re a dark blue color.
Strawberry (Fragaria sp.)
Modern cultivated strawberries had to come from somewhere, and usually, domestication means improvements in yield, size, and taste. In the case of wild strawberries, the fruits got bigger and yields heavier…but at the expense of taste.
Wild strawberries are intensely flavored and pack all the flavor of those massive grocery store strawberries into a tiny, intense package.
As you might imagine, fruit size varies greatly across individual plants, which is what allowed for selective breeding in the first place. Some fruits are small and mighty, but I’ve found a few nearly the size of cultivated berries but maintaining that characteristic wild strawberry flavor.
The fruits are delicate and don’t keep well. They’re best eaten out of hand or made into a batch of wild strawberry jam.
Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens)
Also known as checkerberry, boxberry, or American wintergreen, this spreading groundcover produces bright red fruits late in the fall. They have a distinctive wintergreen flavor, which is incredibly refreshing in the woods.
The foliage is used to make wintergreen ice cream too.
Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus and R. odoratus)
The thimble-shaped fruits of flowering raspberry or thimbleberry plants are similar to raspberries, but they have an intense flavor that’s actually “more raspberry than a raspberry.” To me, they taste like they’ve been injected with the flavoring from a raspberry candy because it’s almost too intense to be found in nature.
Western species (R. parviflorus) have white flowers, and the eastern variety (R. odoratus) we have here in Vermont has pink flowers. Otherwise, they’re quite similar and produce tasty thimble-shaped berries from large, arching, thornless canes.
Witherod or Northern Wild Raisin (Viburnum cassinoides or V. nudum)
The name “wild raisin” describes these small edible berries quite well. The fruit is pulpy, and tastes almost exactly like a raisin. They tend to wrinkle as they ripen, increasing the raisin resemblance.
Wild raisins are a member of the viburnum family, and like nannyberry and hobbleberry, they contain a large flat seed.
The plants prefer shade and wet, almost swampy soils. They can be found growing near drainage ditches, river floodplains and along pond edges. Or, sometimes just along a trail edge in a wet climate like ours here in the Northeast…
Other Wild Edible Plants
Besides the abundance of wild fruits available, there are also wild nuts, seeds, and greens. While fruits are the most inviting to our palates, there are many other types of wild foods available for harvest year-round. Be sure to positively identify any plant before consuming, as the risk of inadvertently eating a poisonous plant is very real.
Always consult a good field guide, and I’d suggest verifying your ID with at least two sources.
If you’d like to learn more about foraging, sign up for my newsletter below and you’ll never miss a post.