Download: The Berry Picking Guide
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Where can you find blueberries, strawberries, chokecherries, pin cherries, raspberries, and thimbleberries growing wild? Cook County Minnesota is your place!
Cook County offers so many delights for the senses, the beautiful scenery, the natural sounds of the forest, even the smells of wet earth, pine sap and woodsmoke are sure to please. But there are few culinary delights the forest has to offer. Even though there are many edible plants and mushrooms in the forest most of us would do better to leave them alone unless we have an expert along to make sure we are not getting ourselves into trouble.
The exception is berries! Almost anyone can identify edible fruits in the wild. Many boreal forest mainstays look very similar to the cultivated versions you find in the grocery store. The difference is the taste. You won’t find any blueberries the size of marbles but they won’t taste like plaster either. And those perfect raspberries that Julia Child garnishes her deserts with do not exist in the woods, but I’m sure Julia would prefer the ones you can pick at the back of your campsite.
Blueberries are the forest fruit that people associate most often with canoe country, and they’re plentiful throughout the region. They like dry, well-drained, rocky soil with good sun and are often found under jack or red pine stands and in recent burns. The plants are a woody shrub, usually less than two feet tall and resemble miniature trees. Blueberries almost always grow in patches from a few individual plants to many square yards in size. If you find one plant, you’ll probably find more.
Next on the list for most folks is raspberries, which are also found throughout canoe country. They like disturbed soil and lots of sunshine. Recent burns and openings in the forest are likely places to look. Along portage trails and around the edge of campsites are good habitats, too.
Thimbleberry, also called salmonberry, is a close cousin to the raspberry. Look for the huge, maple-like leaves that are from 4-8 inches in diameter. The plants are almost always about three feet tall and very bushy. Earlier in the summer, thimbleberry has beautiful white flowers that are very similar to wild rose.
Wild strawberries are a passion for some and the best pickin’ patches are closely guarded secrets. They like well-drained soils and lots of sunshine. You’ll find them in forest openings, along portage trails and around some open campsites. The plants are very small, low to the ground and the berries like to hide beneath the leaves.
These are a few of the fruits and berries you are likely to encounter on your next trip to Cook County. There are many other berries and fruits in the forest – some edible, some not. It is always best to be sure of what you are eating and taste test even if you feel sure. Remember to be a good forest grazer and leave more than you take.