The latest presentation in the “AskUAS” lecture series was held virtually on Thursday evening, capping a sunny spring day that drove many people outside — fitting weather for the night’s topic of berries.
“To Eat or Not to Eat, That is the Question: Wild Berries Edition” kicked off at 6:30 p.m. on the University of Alaska Southeast Ketchikan Campus Library Facebook page, drawing around 30 listeners.
The lecture was presented by Barbara Morgan, a professor of general studies at UAS Ketchikan, in a pre-recorded video that lasted around an hour. Morgan was available to answer questions “live” in an attached comments section.
“For this presentation, I am going to actually highlight the different kinds of berries we have here in Southeast Alaska, both ones that you want to be able to eat and ones that you want to be able to stay away from,” Morgan said at the start of the presentation.
Morgan spent the first half of the lecture explaining the different types of berries that are safe to eat throughout the region.
“This is one that not many people know about in this region,” Morgan said.
When introducing this plant, Morgan noted that juniper is not actually a berry, although it is referred to as a berry.
Morgan said that “male” juniper flowers have a red coloration, while “female” flowers are more yellow in color.
“When those get pollinated, they turn into a round cone that has kind of three scales on it, and actually looks more like a berry, so people call them a berry,” she explained.
Morgan called juniper berries “strange,” noting that it takes around a whole year for berries to ripen enough to eat.
Juniper grows in muskeg, and can be used for both medicinal purposes and cooking.
Clasping Twisted Stalk
This plant gets its name for how the leaves of the plant wraps around the stem, Morgan explained.
“The juice is very juicy and the seeds are kind of large,” she said of the berries, adding that they are commonly called cucumber or watermelon berries.
Morgan said she did not know many people who used these berries — which range in color from red to orange — for cooking.
“They’re kind of just one that you enjoy while you’re out hiking in the forest,” she said.
Deer Heart (False Lily of the Valley)
Morgan said that this plant is commonly referred to as “deer heart” around Ketchikan, although she learned it as False Lily of the Valley, a name given to it due to the resemblance to the Lily of the Valley plant.
“It produces a berry that you can eat, which is something that not a lot of people know,” Morgan said.
As the berries ripen, they change from being green — with a pattern of small red dots — to completely red in color.
“That happens late in the fall,” Morgan explained, adding that they are common in the Ketchikan area.
“It’s impossible to misidentify this when it’s blooming,” Morgan said of the plant. “It has this very distinctive four-petaled white flower with the dark center to it.”
The evergreen Miniature Dogwood plant only grows up to six inches in height, and features red berries often referred to as bunch berries.
Morgan said that in her opinion, the berries are not desirable, describing the berry as leathery with mealy pulp and bland seeds.
“They are a berry that you can use to stretch other berries (for recipes),” Morgan said.
Morgan said that “we have quite a bit of this in patches,” noting that it can be found around Ward Lake or on the edges of muskegs.
The plant blooms with clusters of white flowers that turn into red berries.
“When they’re ripe, they’re soft and squishy,” Morgan said.
Morgan explained that many gatherers don’t collect the berries because they feel too soft, but said that the best time to gather them is after the first frost of the year.
Morgan said to be cautious while picking, as the berry is simply full of juice with one seed in the center.
Creeping Red Raspberry
Also known as “five finger bramble,” this plant grows on a “long runner” that threads underneath moss, according to Morgan.
The plant produces one red berry, although it doesn’t happen every year.
“These, I’ve not ever found enough of them to harvest and eat .. I just eat them out hiking or something,” Morgan said.
They are in the same genus as salmonberries.
Nagoon berry has pink flowers and similar leaf shapes to salmonberries. It grows low to the ground and is not very common in Ketchikan.
Lowbush cranberry (lingonberry)
Morgan said these berries grow on the edges of muskegs or on raised areas near muskegs.
“They bloom with this kind of delicate pink flower,” Morgan said.
When ready to eat, the berries are bright red in color.
Lowbush cranberries — which Morgan explained are a type of lingonberry — are used often in Swedish dishes.
Morgan also mentioned common berries, such as red huckleberries, thimbleberries, cloudberries and salmonberries as being popular choices for spring or summertime gatherers.
During the presentation, Morgan shared information about close to 30 berries, including poisonous or unfavorable species.
The remainder of Morgan’s list will be published in a future edition of the Daily News.