Berrying is a soul-satisfying past-time shared by young and old in a fall subsistence tradition that fills buckets, bellies and freezers. Berries are all over Unalaska, but to find an ultimate berry patch takes patience and maybe an inside connection!
Nutritionally valuable, Alaska wild berries outrank cultivated berries and even wild berries from the lower 48, with high anti-oxidant levels even after heat processing. (Anti-oxidants are scored on the ORAC scale, with anything over 40 considered an extremely high rating. We include the Alaska wild berry levels below). Dried berries have an even higher anti-oxidant level.
Here are the most commonly-picked berries in Unalaska and how they might be used.
Two blueberry varieties grow on Unalaska. The Alaska blueberry (oval-leafed blueberry) grows on a taller bush up to six feet tall. The bog blueberry shrub can grow to about 16 inches high. Both can produce large, plentiful berries.
Where to find: Hillsides/tundra
Picking Season: August/September
Bag or bucket? Bucket
Use: Eat off the bush or collect for syrup, jam, muffins, pancakes and more.
Store: Store in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze or dry.
Anti-oxidant score: 76
Other: Celebrate all things blueberry at Unalaska’s Blueberry Bash.
Crowberries are plentiful in Alaska and easy to pick. Their evergreen, needle-like foliage grows close to the ground. Berries are easy to strip from each branch, and they add up quickly.
Where to find: Upper reaches
Picking Season: Best after first frost.
Bag or bucket? Either. Crowberries have a tougher skin than blueberries, so you can use plastic storage bags or buckets.
Use: Not so tasty fresh, the crowberry grows sweeter with cooking and makes lovely jelly, cordials, and syrups. Can also be used to extend blueberries for pies and other desserts.
Store: Freeze before using for added sweetness. Can also be dried and used like you would a raisin.
Anti-oxidant score: 94
Other: Also known as mossberry or blackberry. Crowberries are seedy, so if you do make preserves, opt for jelly instead of jam.
Smaller and more brilliantly red than commercial cranberries, low-bush cranberries catch your eye as you walk along. It’s as if someone sprinkled rubies in the tundra. Cranberries are easy to identify from their small, glossy green leaves.
Where to find: Mountain cranberries are found in the higher elevations and bog cranberries in wet areas at a lower elevation.
Picking Season: Pick after first frost or freeze after picking.
Bag or bucket? Like crowberries, cranberries don’t tend to get smashed, so use either bag or bucket.
Use: Juice, jam, jelly, fruit leather, sauces, muffins.
Store: Freeze before using to improve flavor.
Anti-oxidant score: 203
Other: Also called lingonberry, these tart berries are extremely high in
Beautiful berries that can present in a range of colors on the same bush: from yellow and orange to bright red and deep red (almost black). They resemble a large raspberry, with a flavor that also varies from bush to bush. The riper, the better! Salmonberries are high in Vitamin C and extremely high in Vitamin A.
Where to find: Tall salmonberry bushes grow in stands on on stream banks, alpine slopes and moist coastal meadows - usually among grasses, putchki and monkshood.
Picking Season: July/August
Bag or bucket? Small bucket. Salmonberries are delicate and will crush easily.
Use: Eat off the bush or use for juice, jelly, pies, or paired with fish. Seeds toughen up after cooking, so you may want to press berries through a sieve to remove the seeds.
Store: Will not last long after picking. Freeze immediately in an individual layer on a tray; then transfer frozen berries to a freezer bag.
Anti-oxidant score: 40
Other: In early summer, salmonberry bushes are adorned with large, pink, rose-like flowers (no surprise since they are a member of the rose family). It takes time for salmonberry bushes to mature, so tread lightly. Use a dead salmon berry branch to gently “hook” the higher branches for easier picking. Individual berries on the same bush can ripen at different times. Plan to come back in a few days for the newly ripe ones!
- Buy a land use permit from the Ounalashka Corporation before you set out on your picking adventure.
- Processing berries after you pick also takes time...so be sure you can use or store all that you pick.
- Freeze berries if you want to use them later. Properly frozen, most will last up to 2 years. Put berries in a single layer on a tray and freeze. Once solid, transfer to a bag and put back in the freezer.