Edible Berries in British Columbia

Vancouver Island and British Columbia are home to many varieties of wild edible berries that grow from the spring through the fall. This is a list of edible berry varieties that appear on Vancouver Island.

A Guide To Edible Berries On Vancouver Island BC

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)

Salmonberry plants look like blackberry bushes, but are taller than the local variety and less aggressive than the imported Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus discolor.

They form dense stands above head height. One main leaf flanked by two smaller ones, prominently serrated.

The berries are ripe once they're bright orange, and remain so as they darken red. Their flavor is variable, so they're good to mix with other berries, or to use in jams.

Find them in wet, swampy areas. They appear from May to June.

Young sprouts can be peeled and eaten, raw or steamed.

If the berry peels easily away from the plant, that's a good indication that its ripe.

Overall the taste of salmon berries is not very strong, perhaps even watery.

A dark red salmon berry.

Large yellow salmonberries.

A bowl of salmon berries and indian plum berries.

Closeup of a ripe salmon berry.

Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis)

Also known as "indian plum", you can spot osoberry in the spring by their early flowers and smooth almost-oval leaves that taste like cucumber.

Osoberry grows in low-lying, wet, or open areas.

Osoberry berries change colour from cream, to peach, to red, to purple. When ripe, they resemble small plums. These berries ripen relatively early, around the same time as salmon berries.

The berries have a sweet, slightly creamy taste with a hint of cucumbers. Pits are quite large.

Oso berries

Oso berries (AKA indian plum) ripen at different points

Check out these guides for identifying edible plants and berries in British Columbia

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Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium)

Huckleberries are a favourite summertime berry on Vancouver Island. With the right conditions they can grow in large numbers. The tend to be more sour than sweet, so not everyone enjoys them.

  • Berries are pink to red, slightly translucent, round, sour, and roughly pea-sized

  • Smooth, oval leaves (slightly serrated when young)

  • Bushes grow in sunny spots under otherwise dense tree cover, usually on nurse logs

  • Berries contain many small seeds

  • No thorns

Huckleberry bush

Huckleberry bushes don't form dense, thorny stands like many of the other berries on this list. As such, they're great for browsing and picking as you walk.

Huckleberry lookalike

Above left: Baldhip or dwarf rose (Rosa gymnocarpa). Above right: Huckleberry

Baldhip rose berries are opaque and more oblong shaped. Don't eat them.

Huckleberry lookalike, Rosa gymnocarpa

Dwarf rose berry and leaves

Don't eat.

Unripe berry of Rosa gymnocarpa, baldhip rose

Don't eat.

Oregon Grape (Mahonia nervosa)

Oregon grape, Mahonia nervosa, is a low-lying bush with prickly, holly-like leaves and dense clusters of sour berries.

The berries become purple as they ripen, but will remain very sour. They're best used in sweetened preserves or for brewing.

Tall Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is another Oregon grape variety that grows in drier and more open habitats, and has fewer leaves on its branches.

Tall Oregon grape berries ripen earlier than M. nervosa and often appear in ornamental settings on Vancouver Island.

Oregon grape lookalikes

There are no native lookalikes of oregon grapes. As long as you have a holly-like bush with purple berries, then you should have a legitimate oregon grape plant. There might be imported ornamentals that look similar, so avoid anything growing in a landscaped area or garden.

Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium
Above: Tall Oregon Grape - Mahonia aquifolium.

Low lying Oregon grape, with a few ripening berries.

Dense bunches of unripe Oregon grapes.

Ripe Oregon grape berries

Ripe Oregon grape berries, up close.

Forest floor covered in Oregon grape bushes

A typical stand of Oregon grape bushes under young Douglas fir trees.

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Trailing Blackberry (Rubus ursinus)

Vancouver Island's native variety of blackberry. The trailing blackberry grows in relatively flat or low tangles, forming a thorny mat of overlapping vines. Their thorns are particularly vicious.

The berries are relatively small, but delicious when ripe. Unlike invasive varieties, they are difficult to find in very large numbers and mix well with other species.

Trailing blackberry vines
Trailing blackberry berries

Closeup of a trailing blackberry.

Trailing blackberry vines

Tangle of trailing blackberry vines.

Wild Raspberry (Rubus leucodermis)

Also known as "black raspberry" or "blackcap".

Berries become purple and then black with age.

Bushes are long, curved branches. Have thorns, but not too aggressive.

Occur in open, disturbed areas.

Leaves are relatively small and serated.

Berries: delicious

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)

Thimbleberry bushes stand upright, approximately 4-6 feet high, with large serrated leaves. The leaves are soft, fuzzy, and broad.

Thimbleberry bushes grow small white flowers in the late-spring, which give way to cup-like red berries in mid-summer.

The berries are fragile and come apart easily. As such, thimbleberries don't store or transport well and are best eaten straight off the bush or collected in small amounts.

Individual berries ripen at different times, so there's usually something to find in a thimbleberry stand over the course of a few weeks.

Many people rate thimbleberries as the best-tasting berry in British Columbia.

Unripe thimbleberries

Unripe thimbleberries

Young thimbleberry shoots

Ripe salal berries

Salal (Gaultheria shallon)

Salal bushes are abundant in Vancouver Island's forests, lining many of the paths and covering the forest floor.

These bushes are usually between 2 and 5 feet in height, with stiff oval-shaped leaves.

In the spring, salal bushes develop rows of small, white, hanging flowers on narrow pink stalks.

Salal berries appear in mid to late summer. They are soft and juicy on the inside, with a tough, fuzzy skin.

The taste is relatively mild, but sweet.

Salal bushes (right)

Salal bushes are adaptable and hardy, appearing in a variety of areas and habitats.

Sala berries grow in large quantities and are suitable for eating, or making into preserves and jams.

Stands of salal bushes can often grow very thick, making them next to impassable obstacles in the forest undergrowth.

The shade of salal bushes can hide many popular mushrooms, like chanterelles and hedgehogs.


Salal bush

Blackberry flowers are white to pale pink. They make excellent forage for honey bees.

Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus armeniacus)

An invasive species that dominates many open areas near urban development.

Produces huge quantities of berries, although they can sometimes be lost to dryness or mold. They are excellent for jams, juices, or fermentation. Sweet and delicious.

The plant and its thorns are quite aggressive. Bringing a small ladder, or hooking stick can be useful for getting into the thorny hedges.

The berries need rain prior to developing for a good harvest. However, rain after the berries have grown can cause them to rot and grow mold.

To avoid sour berries, make sure that they are black all over. Even one reddish cell can mean a sour berry overall. A good berry will pluck easily, but not disintegrate in your hand or be overrun with bugs.

Closeup of a ripe blackberry

A bunch of blackberries. The red ones are not ripe.

Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)

Also called California huckleberry, evergreen blueberry, and box blueberry, this attractive looking plant is also a popular ornamental shrub.

It has sturdy, serrated leaves and pretty white-to-pink bell-shaped flowers. Berries start to develop in the late summer, and can fruit into late fall as well.

Has small dark, almost black, berries which are excellent for jam and popular with many birds and mammals.

Above: Evergreen huckleberries

Above: Dense stands of evergreen huckleberry bushes in second growth forest

closeup of a cluster of red elderberries

Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)

Red elderberry plants can be identified by their well-spaced, opposite, large pointed leaves, and dense clusters of tiny white flowers which bloom in the spring.

Elderberry plants typically grow into mid-sized bushy trees, up to 6 metres high, in low-lying and moist areas. The leaves and flowers also have a strong smell. Many parts of the plant are toxic and staining - so be careful. Some report that the seeds could be toxic as well, so do your research and consume in limited amounts to test.

In the summer, they grow bunches of red berries. These berries are actually "drupes" - more similar to stone fruits like cherries, nectarines, and coffee beans. The berries cause nausea when eaten raw, so they should be cooked first.

Varieties:

  • Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens - Red berries. Berries not very sweet, usually used as a filler in recipes.

  • S. racemosa ssp pubens var. meanocarpa - Black to purple berries. Similar to above. Found mostly in the interior.

  • S. caerulea - Blue berries. Sweet and edible raw. Found to the south and limited to coastal areas.

Leaves and berries of a red elderberry plant

Above: A dense cluster of elder berries

Sparse cluster of red elderberry berries

Above: Birds tend to get most berries by the end of summer

Above: Wild blueberries. Blueberries on Vancouver Island typically grow at higher elevations.