The Huckleberry Harvest – Medicinal Benefits Plus Tips for Easy Picking & Preserving

September is time for the huckleberry harvest! Vaccinium ovatum, the native evergreen huckleberry, with its classic balance of wildly sweet and tart, it is perfect for pancakes, muffins and every other excuse for a huckleberry recipe you can dream up. 

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These tiny round berries don’t just taste good, they are one of our Pacific Northwest wild medicinals! Beyond the berries and leaves being high in vitamin C, this valuable native has several medicinal uses. According to the USDA,

medical research has shown that consumption of the leaf extract decreases blood sugar levels shortly after administration. Taken on regular basis, huckleberry tea will gradually help alleviate both glycosuria and hyperglycemia and appears to have a beginning, but useful effect as an adjunct treatment to diabetes mellitus. The leaves are believed also to stimulate appetite, and have astringent and antiseptic qualities that are useful in urinary disorders.

The slopes of our homestead are covered with them. Some of those under the dense douglas fir and western red cedar canopy stretch to twelve feet overhead. Shrubs lucky enough to be bathed in the Pacific Northwest summer sunlight grow dense and produce abundant clusters of tiny black shiny berries, held on upright stems for birds and berry pickers alike.

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But what a pain they are to pick and process! Hand picking, one by one, rolling the tasty little berries gently off the stems. Not to mention the tedious cleaning. Picking out leaves, stems, shriveled berries, all the stuff that winds up in your berry bucket, but that you don’t want in your berry pancakes.

That is until you learn a few tricks. Here are a few that we have picked up along the way.

1 – Use a berry picker.

This is the one we use.

When it comes to huckleberries, a berry picker is the only way to go. Without this ingenious tool, the work is very. slow. Which is fine if you are just out there for therapy but if you are going for quantity and actually want to have more than a quart of berries in your bucket by the end of the day, you need to get one of these.

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2 – Applying the 80/20 principle

…also known as Pareto’s Law. Basically, you get 80 percent of your returns, from 20 percent of your work. So focus on that 20 percent.

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When it comes to harvesting huckleberries, that means look for the bushes that are loaded and pick those ones first. Your bucket will fill up pretty fast this way. Leave the sporadic bushes for the furry and feathered foragers {chipmonks, migrating birds, bears… oh my}.

3 – There is a trick to cleaning huckleberries.

Work smarter, not harder by setting up a berry cleaning station with a towel and a board. Arrange a towel covered board on an angle so that as you place a handful of berries at the top, they will roll down the board into a bowl at the bottom. It helps to roll the edges of the towel so they act like bumpers on a bowling alley keeping the berries from rolling off the sides of the board. As the berries roll down, leaves, stems and debris are left behind on the towel.

I don’t pick the stems off the individual berries. You can. Most people do. That is just way too tedious for my taste. The stems don’t effect the quality of the final product, and they don’t bother my family, so I save myself the trouble and leave them.

4 – Eat or preserve.

What you don’t want to use fresh can easily be frozen, dried, or canned.

We usually freeze ours. It is as simple as filling freezer bags with clean berries and tossing in the freezer. Throughout the year, whenever we want to use huckleberries, I take however much we need from the bag {they do not stick together when forzen} and put the rest back in the freezer. Our huckleberry harvest lasts us this way until the following year, when it is time to pick again.

Do you have some good huckleberry picking tips? Did you know they were medicinal? I didn’t. I can’t wait to try some tea!

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9 thoughts on “The Huckleberry Harvest – Medicinal Benefits Plus Tips for Easy Picking & Preserving

  1. Shelly says:

    If someone was considering planting some huckleberry in their garden, what variety would you recommend? My fairly small yard gets a lot of sun, but I’m planning on planting a couple of small trees (willow and witch hazel) for a little shade. I’m just starting out gardening and learning about medical plants, and in my googling I just found your site. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! 🙂

    • Tania says:

      Hi Shelly,
      The huckleberry bushes we have are native to the property. Some of the neighbors even consider them weeds! …craziness. I have never planted huckleberries, and from what I know they are a difficult plant to cultivate. However if you are going to give it a shot, I would start your search at a native plant nursery. Your local extension office may be able to help you find some as well. I would plant any that you get around your perimeter, don’t use up prime garden space. They grow well on the edges and will produce berries if they just get a little sun and water. They also make a very nice hedge! We prune ours like hedges anywhere from 2 to 6 feet tall. Just remember they produce berries on last years new growth. So if you want berries you want to keep that in mind with your pruning strategy. Once established the plants are very hardy. You can even cut established plants all the way back to the ground (copice) and they will bounce right back with all kinds of new growth. Have fun with your huckleberry hunt!

  2. Shelly says:

    If someone was considering planting some huckleberry in their garden, what variety would you recommend? My fairly small yard gets a lot of sun, but I’m planning on planting a couple of small trees (willow and witch hazel) for a little shade. I’m just starting out gardening and learning about medical plants, and in my googling I just found your site. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! 🙂

  3. E of the Sea says:

    The pictures look like garden huckleberries which are a nightshade and a different species to the red wild ones. From what I understand, the wild medicinal properties can’t be applied to them. Unlike the red wild huckleberries Their leaves are actually slightly toxic… before cooking.

    • Tania says:

      Hi E of the Sea,
      It is definitely important to positively identify and know what you are harvesting and eating. I’ve grown up harvesting and consuming these berries and learned from my grandmother who did the same. These are not toxic and not garden grown. They only grow in the wild as far as I know. WSU has actually been trying to produce a variety that can be cultivated. The botanical name is Vaccinium ovatum. They are evergreen highbush northwest huckleberries. Totally safe, and totally yummy. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Wildcrafting: Collecting Wild Food & Medicine with the Future in Mind - PNW from Scratch

    • Tania says:

      Believe it or not, I actually don’t prefer these huckleberries in a pie! They are way too rich. Ok, maybe a small slice of pie over a big bowl of vanilla ice cream. 😉 Actually, my favorite way to use these is in salad dressings and marinades. Or pancakes/waffles. I have used them in a pie mixed with other fruit though… yum. <3

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