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Salmonberry

Salmonberries
Salmonberries

The Salmonberry (rubus spectabilis) is native to the west coast of North America from west central Alaska to California.

Salmonberry fruits are edible, but are considered too soft to dry. Both the large, raspberry-like fruit and the young shoots were widely eaten by coastal peoples of British Columbia and western Washington. Fruits were an important food source for Native Americans and are still collected today. The berries are among the first to ripen, and are a beautiful salmon colour that stand out in the generally rainy weather of spring. Large quantities of fresh berries were picked and were often served at feasts, usually with oil or ooligan grease, said to prevent constipation. Today salmonberries are frozen, canned, or made into jams and jellies.

The young growing sprouts are harvested from April to early June. They are snapped off with the fingers before they become woody, then peeled, and eaten raw or, more commonly cooked by steaming or boiling. Sprouts are also tied in bundles and pit-cooked. They were usually eaten with seal oil or ooligan grease, and, more recently, with sugar, often as an accompaniment to dried salmon or meat. Some Nuu-chah-nulth people boiled the leaves with fish as a flavouring. The Kaigani Haida used the leaves to line baskets, wipe fish, and cover food in steaming pits.

Salmonberry Nutritional Data
Salmonberry Nutritional Data

The Makah dry and peel a branch of salmonberry, remove the pith, and use it for a pipe stem. The Quileute plug the hair seal float used in whaling with the hollow stem of elderberry wood, then insert a piece of salmonberry wood as a stopper. This salmonberry plug can be removed for further inflation of the float.

Salmonberry has an astringent quality in the bark and leaves. The Quileute chew the leaves and spit them on burns, and in winter when the leaves are not obtainable they use the bark instead. The Makah pound the bark and lay it on an aching tooth or a festering wound to kill the pain. The Quinault boil the bark in seawater, and the brew is drank to lessen labour pains and to clean infected wounds, especially burns.

In the Pacific Northwest of North America the berries can ripen from mid-June to late July.

Salmonberries are found in moist forests and stream margins, especially in the coastal forests. They often form large thickets, and thrive in the open spaces under stands of red alder. Salmonberries are found as far north as Kivalina, Alaska.

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