Enjoying the fruits of the season:
Wild berry picking in Washington
By Michael J. Foster/WDFW
July can be a great time to reap the benefits of nature’s bounty, and there are few tastier and more pleasant ways to do so than wild berry picking in our state.
Washington is home to several species of wild edible berries that ripen in July, as well as a few more that are in their prime later or earlier in the season.
Below you’ll find information on the most common berry species people pick in Washington to help you get started or maybe get introduced to a new species to forage.
Read on for more on how you can enjoy these delicious summertime treats with family and friends whether you’re picking and eating right off the plant, baking them into your favorite treats, or trying a new jelly recipe.
Where and when to pick
Washington has extensive public lands on both the east and west sides where you can try your hand at bringing home a bevy of wild berries. For details on public lands in Washington, check out our Life Outdoors webpage for information on both state and federal public lands to explore.
While July can be a great month for several varieties of wild berries, there are also a few that hit their stride later in the summer and others that have already become overripe. If you go in search of ripe berries this month, also keep an eye out for other species that are past peak or not ready yet so you know where to go earlier and later this berry season and next.
Here are some of the most common wild berries you’ll have the opportunity to harvest in Washington:
Himalayan blackberry: This easily recognized common berry is an introduction from Europe that is found readily in many areas on the plant’s tall thorny canes. According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), this abundant plant colonizes disturbed areas such as roadsides and has a large seedy fruit. Blackberries fruit from June through September. They are found in wooded areas, but often live along roads, streams, and railroad tracks, as well as in vacant lots and cutover forests. The fruit, though seedy, can still be used in a variety of traditional berry recipes, but it is generally regarded as inferior to the trailing blackberry. There is also another introduced variety of blackberry, the evergreen blackberry, that shares several qualities with the Himalayan species.
Trailing blackberry: The USFS refers to this less common native blackberry as a prized find. The plant produces small berries and is mostly found in open, sunny ground. This low-growing blackberry begins to fruit at about the same time as the Himalayan variety and can be found in much the same environment. The sweeter flavor of the berries makes it a favorite for every nature of berry recipe.
Huckleberry: These beloved berries occur in red (Western Washington) and blue (Eastern Washington) varieties and are among the most popular wild fruit in Washington. According to the USFS, the species are found from low, wet forests right up to the alpine slopes of both the Cascade and Olympic mountains. The berries will ripen first at lower elevations, and the peak months for the berries are August and September. Huckleberries can be found in relatively open forestland, cutover timberlands, and burned areas.
Salmonberry: This wild berry is an early riser, ripening in May and June, so keep this information handy for next berry season. Reminiscent of large, softer, yellow or reddish raspberries, the uses for this berry are many. It can be eaten right off the plant or made into jams, jellies, or baked goods, and is traditionally eaten with salmon as it often ripens at about the time spring Chinook are being caught in coastal streams. Salmonberry is a common feature along forest roads and the banks of rivers and streams.
Thimbleberry: This slightly less common berry forms broadleaf thickets in open areas such as roadsides, shorelines, clearings, and open forests. The red, hairy berry resembles a raspberry but is a little flatter and denser. They ripen in mid- to late summer and are somewhat seedy but still commonly eaten. Thimbleberries are very delicate so they lend themselves to being eaten right off the plant.
Salal berry: The USFS describes the salal berry as abundant, easy to pick, and often overlooked as a berry picking option. While the rounded, leathery, evergreen foliage of salal is prized among florists, the berries ripen from mid-July through mid-September and can be ideal for jellies. Occurring in clusters, the berries are dark reddish-blue to dark purple. While often not quite as tall as other berry plants, this very common forest floor resident can still form impressively dense stands.
Though there are more species that you can get to know as you gain experience, here are some other less commonly picked berries:
Oregon grape: Seedy and tart, this common forest floor berry is best mixed with other berry jellies. When eaten fresh it can have a laxative effect.
Wild strawberry: These small, sweet berries taste great, but their size means you’ll have your work cut out for you if you try to pick more than a snack’s worth. They can be found growing on roadsides and in cutover areas.
Wild blueberry: Several varieties exist in Washington at various elevations, from marshes to subalpine terrain.
Blackcap and red raspberry: This black or red small-seeded berry can be found in areas similar to the preferred habitats of blackberries.
There are several safety considerations to make when harvesting wild berries:
· Confirm your plant identification: Find a good field guide or mobile app like iNaturalist and learn the ropes of identifying plants and berries to make sure what you see is definitely the treat you think it is. If you have a friend or family member who is knowledgeable on the topic, show them the specimen before eating. Before long, you’ll be confident in making your own identifications, but when in doubt, skip harvesting and take a picture to do more research. There are many more berry species in our state than mentioned here, some edible, some not, so use caution when starting out.
· Close quarters: A berry patch is also a buffet for wild animals, and though that can lead to some great wildlife viewing opportunities while picking, it is also a reason to use caution. Bears and forest grouse are among the most common visitors to berry patches. For information on how to prevent and best handle bear encounters, read our FAQ on the use of bear spray.
· Be prepared: If you’re undertaking a significant hike for your berry foraging, always carry the 10 essentials and leave your hike plans with someone not out there with you.
· Check the rules: When harvesting on public land, different agencies have different rules for personal and incidental use, so check with them about harvesting rules when you know where you’ll be out looking for berries.
· Wash it off: Just as you would with produce from the grocery store, it’s a good idea to wash or soak your berries before cooking with or eating them, especially if you have a bigger haul. Since berries are so delicate, wash them gently right before use. Washed berries that are then stored can break down faster.
· Eyes on the road: Automobile exhaust can settle on plants near roads, so be mindful of where the nearest road is when foraging, especially since many berries like disturbed areas like roadsides. If you’re on a well-traveled forest road picking berries, exhaust can be an issue, as can dust getting kicked up from the road onto nearby plants and berries.
While you’re at it
With the statewide black bear hunting season starting Aug. 1 and running into the fall, black bear hunting and berry picking can often go hand in hand. Once you find a remote berry spot safely removed from berry harvesters, you could also be sitting on a great bear hunting spot due to the food source. And when the hunting’s slow, why not do some picking yourself?
Whether you’re new to berry picking in Washington or looking to try a new species, we hope all this information will get you started on your way to enjoying one of the summer’s best ways to explore our great outdoors.
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