B earberries are rather mealy and tasteless, but they are often abundant and remain on branches all year, so they can provide an important survivor food. Many Canadian First Nations traditionally used them for food. to reduce the dryness, bearberries were often cooked with salmon oil, bear fat or fish eggs, or they were added to soups or stews. Sometimes, boiled berries were preserved in oil and served whipped with snow during winter. Boiled bearberries, sweetened with syrup or sugar and served with cream, reportedly make a tasty dessert. They can also be used in jams, jellies, cobblers and pies, or dried, ground and cooked into a mush. Apparently, if the berries are fried in grease over a slow fire they eventually pop, rather like popcorn. Scalded mashed berries, soaked in water for an hour or so produce a spicy, cider-like drink, which can be sweetened and fermented to make wine.
edible, not palatable.
Small 5-10 mm fruits, bright red to purplish black.
Flowers May to July. Berries ripen August to September
Evergreen or deciduous shrubs with clusters of nodding, white or pinkish, urn-shaped flowers and juicy to mealy, berry-like drupes containing 5 small nutlets. The genus Arctostaphylos contains 2 main groups of species, the bearberries, which are low, trailing to tufted shrubs found most abundantly in arctic and alpine regions, and the manzanitas, which are erect or spreading, taller shrubs of western Canada.
Although fairly insipid, juicy alpine bearberries are probably among the most palatable fruits in the genus, but because they grow at high elevations and northern latitudes, they have been the least used. Hairy manzanita berries are very similar to the ones of common bearberrry, and were historically an important food for many tribes in the plant’s range. Hikers sometimes chew the berries and leaves to stimulate saliva flow and relieve thirst.
A trailing, deciduous shrub, to 15 cm tall. Leaves thin, veiny, oval, 1-5 cm long, with hairy margins (at the base) that often turn red in autumn, the previous year’s dead leaves usually evident. Flowers small (4-6 mm long), appearing from June to July and producing mealy fruits that are purplish black, 5-10 mm in diameter, by late summer. Grows in moderately well-drained, rocky, gravelly and sandy soils on tundra, slopes and ridges in norther parts of the province.
A trailing, evergreen shrub to 15 cm tall. Leaves leathery, evergreen, spoon-shaped, 1-3 cm long. Small (4-6 mm long) flowers appear from May to June and produce bright red, 5-10 mm diameter, mealy fruits by late summer. Grows in well-drained, often gravelly or sandy soils in open woods and rocky, exposed site at all elevations throughout BC.
A A much taller shrub, 1-3 m tall. Leaves 2-5 cm long, oval, evergreen. Fruits red-coloured. Grows in open, coniferous forests and openings in extreme southwestern BC.
S imilar to alpine bearberry, but it has longer leaves (to 9cm long) with hairless margins, the leaves of the previous year not persistent. Berries bright red. Grows int he same habitats as alpine bearberrry and over the same range.