Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wild Berries in the Sierra Nevada

So two weekends ago I went to Yosemite and the Sierras.  This was my first trip to Yosemite where I completely avoided the valley floor.  It was wonderful.  It's such a beautiful park no matter where you go.
It's late summer coming onto fall and so there were quite a few berries scattered about on different bushes.  Some edible, some not, some undetermined.

The first berries we found were along a creek on some species of Ribes.  They had thorns on the stems so they would fall under the common name gooseberry I think.  Not sure which one specifically since our book just said there were various species of Ribes scattered throughout the Sierras.  It had small red berries.  Near the creek, they were a little mealy and not so sweet, but higher up they had a pleasant tartness balanced with a little sweetness.

In the same area we found twinberries.  Beautiful, plump glossy berries looking like conjoined twins.  My recent favorite book Flavors of Home describes them as officially edible, but not good to eat, at least here in California.  Further north in Oregon, they are supposedly prized and considered tasty, here in California no mention is made.  I now understand why.  I tried one, just to see, even after my friend said they weren't worth it.  It had a pretty foul taste.  So foul we had to go back and eat some more Ribes berries to get the taste out of our mouth.  Ah well.

On the last day, on our way home, we stopped for another short hike.  We walked through the woods, it was quite beautiful, but then we found some thimbleberries.  I had heard they were really good, but had never found them ripe.  They are really good.  They are kind of like a small fragile raspberry in the shape of a thimble (hence their name).  They have a very nice, but complex flavor.  Very good.
Then  further up we saw more gooseberries.  These had full on spikes to protect the berries themselves.  I kept thinking to myself that this plant, unlike most berry producers, did not want mammals (or at least me) disbursing its seeds.  I seemed to get impaled more than my friends, but it was worth it.  They were sweet and very juicy.  I thought to myself at the time that they would make a nice sorbet.  Evidently someone agreed.
I pulled a bunch off with some twigs I used as impromptu chopsticks and brought them home in a bag.  At home with a fork and a sharp knife they were much easier to open, and a small spoon easily scooped out the flesh.  Next time I'll just remember to bring gloves.
There were also quite a few hazelnut shrubs on that hike, but no hazelnuts were ready.


  1. Well, I appreciate you taking one for the team and trying the twinberry. I'll now take your word for it! I harvested some gooseberries from my plant and it seemed difficult to eat without chomping on the numerous small seeds. The seeds were bitter, but the berry was really sweet. Do you plan on trying any native seeds like Chia? I've always been curious about those.

  2. Hi Christine, Thanks for that heads up on my last post about that native food talk, unfortunately I got it too late.

    I didn't mind the seeds in the gooseberry, but we did find particularly sweet and juicy ones. As for Chia, I just bought a bag to try. It's not super flavorful, but does seem to have a bit of nuttiness. I've been mixing it in some oatmeal and also sprinkled it on salad. It seemed to make things more filling. I like it.

  3. The thimbleberries you found look lovely. I did finally find a ripe gooseberry on our plants that grow wild here, buried, deep in the middle of a prickly plant. With as many blooms as we had in spring, I have to assume the deer devoured the rest. They really are wicked looking fruits though. I don't know how the deer can stand to eat them!

  4. I would love to have gooseberry sorbet. I've planted thimbleberries, but haven't yet reaped a harvest.

  5. Hi from central France.
    I a recent blog post I asked for suggestions for planting US native plants under our 150 year old Sequoia.
    Can you offer anything?
    Thanks, Colin

  6. Hi! I really like your blog and this post on berries is interesting. Makes me want to get out there and hike in my area. We have a neat trail nearby, Lewis Creek Trail, with lots of unique California natives. Please check out my blog. Sierra Foothill Garden. You might like it, too.

  7. This is just about my favorite time to visit Yosemite, after the crowds have left but before the snows shut down the high country. I've never hunted down ripe berries, though. Something to do next time, and I'll be forewarned to bring along some hand protection...

  8. What a great idea. I'll look for them next fall when I'm out hiking!