There are about 20 species of Saskatoon berries native to North America. Cultivated varieties are typically hybrids between two or more of the wild species. In the past, Native peoples of North America used Saskatoon berry plant parts both for nourishment and medicinal purposes. This article will address the range, identification, food uses, medicinal uses, and warnings associated with Saskatoon berries.
Also Known As: Juneberry, serviceberry, and shadbush, Saskatoon serviceberry, alder-leaved shadbush, saskatoon, saskatoon berry, amlanchier feuilles d’aulne
Northern United States and southern Canada. Native to all US states and most Canadian Provinces. There are also two species that also occur in Asia, and one that can be found in Europe.
Shrub or small tree with smooth, dark grey bark, often forming thickets. Leaves oval to nearly round, 2-5 cm long. Flowers white, about 2 cm across, forming short, leafy clusters near the branch tips. Fruits juicy, sweet and fragrant purple to black.
Today, the Saskatoon berry is harvested commercially. These sweet fruits taste somewhat like blueberries and can be eaten fresh for a great trail nibble, or made into raisins. Saskatoons are currently grown commercially in farms all over North America. Some farms process the saskatoon berries into pies, pancakes, puddings, muffins, jams, jellies, sauces, chocolates, syrups and wine. First Nations peoples of North America used Saskatoon berries for producing pemmican. The berries were pounded into buffalo meat and then dried to create dried meat not unlike beef jerky.
Saskatoon juice was used to relieve upset stomach. Green or dried berries were used to make eyedrops. Root tea was taken to prevent miscarriage.
The hard, strong branches were used to make arrows. The wood is brown, hard, close-grained, and heavy. The wood can be used for fishing rods, tool handles and similar wood objects. Saskatoons are excellent ornamental shrubs and are very hardy as well as beautiful. They produce beautiful fall colors and edible berries which makes them a popular backyard landscaping choice.
The leaves and pits contain small amounts of poisonous cyanide-like compounds, but cooking or drying destroys these compounds. Other plant parts should not be consumed without through knowledge of the plant. Remember that this article is no way is intended to offer medical advice; it is merely an interesting resource for those who would like to become more familiar with some useful plants.