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The purple berries are ready to be picked; the red need a few more days to ripen.

Serviceberry: The Most Delicious Fruit You Aren’t Eating

Maybe it’s the name.

Amelanchier is tricky to pronounce if you’ve never heard it said out loud: am-eh-lan-kee-er. So let’s call it Serviceberry or Saskatoon or Shadblow or Juneberry…this plant has no shortage of common names! Whatever you call it, the fruit is delicious. Slightly larger than a blueberry, it tastes like a mashup of strawberry, blueberry, and just a touch of almond.

If you don’t mid my getting all plant-geeky for a minute, I’d like to circle back to all those common names.

-Amelanchier is sometimes called Juneberry because in some parts of the country (like the part where somebody named it Juneberry) the berries ripen in June.

-It’s called Shadblow because its flowers tell you when the shad are running and at their most delicious. Blow is derived from the Old English word meaning to bloom.

-In western North America it’s known as Saskatoon, from the Cree name for the plant. (The Canadian city was named after the plant.)

-The name Serviceberry is often explained by the story that in colonial America, Amelanchier flowers signaled when the ground had thawed enough to bury everyone who died over the winter (funeral service, get it?). But since that common name actually predates colonial America, the explanation doesn’t hold up. Still, I like the name.

Serviceberry comes in both tree and shrub (multi-trunk) forms, and is often used in home landscapes, both for its early, white spring flowers, and its outstanding, orange fall foliage. In nature they grow in full to part sun (more sun produces more flowers and fruit), and many different soil types. These are highly adaptable plants and they’ll tolerate some shade and drought, although the fruit crop will be diminished by both. They even grow well in large rooftop containers! People appreciate Amelanchier as a landscape plant, but very few taste the fruit. They don’t know what they’re missing.

How to Use Serviceberry:

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many people make the mistake of harvesting Amelanchier fruit while it’s still red. Red berries are certainly edible, but they are not fully ripe. Berries are at their best when they ripen to a dark, purple-blue. At this stage they are sweet, plump, and juicy. The fruit ripens gradually, over a period of weeks, so this will be a graduated harvest. Pick only the darkest, ripest fruit, then go back and repeat your harvest every few days, until all the berries are gone. The fruit is plentiful and seeds germinate easily. Any fruit you miss has a good chance of producing seedlings the following year.

In western Canada, Saskatoons (A. alnifolia, the western native) are being commercially grown and touted as a superfood, packed with nutrients and antioxidants. Studies show the berries to be higher than blueberries in vitamin C, fiber, iron, and protein.

Serviceberry fruit is delicious straight from the tree and can be used any way you’d use blueberries: smoothies, cobblers, pies, muffins, pancakes, jellies, jams, and ice cream. And don’t forget sorbet, pudding, wine, fruit leather, or syrup. Native Americans traditionally used the berries in pemmican, which is one of the few applications I haven’t tried…yet.

This low-maintenance, perennial crop deserves your appreciation. It’s easy to harvest in large quantities, it has excellent flavor, and the plant is beautiful. Promise me you’ll look for it next June!

 

serviceberry
serviceberry

35 comments

  1. Keri says:

    I just did a FB live video under the Serviceberry tree in my backyard yesterday morning 🙂

    If I ever own my own home/land, I want to plant at least one Serviceberry natice to the area in which I end up. ❤️❤️

    • Ellen says:

      Here in NM, Amelanchier utahensis fruit is still super-green, but we had a cool, wet spring. I’ll be in PA next week and can’t wait to see how they’re doing there. Where are you harvesting, Mike?

  2. Mike Deushane says:

    Ellen I’m in central illinois. I have 4 treee. 10 year olds.
    As usual. I have to fight the birds for them !
    🐦

  3. Kathy says:

    can serviceberries be mistaken as some toxic berry? (sorry if this is a dumb question…i’m just trying to learn more about the plants near me.)

    • Ellen says:

      Kathy, it’s not a stupid question. It’s always possible to mistake one thing for another, whether we’re talking about a berry, a leaf, or a person walking down the street. As a forager, it’s your job to learn the crucial i.d. characteristics for everything you harvest. Because (as you know!) you should never eat something if you’re not 100% certain of its identity. Some of the things to look for with Amelanchier are delicate white blossoms that precede leaves in spring, smooth gray bark, orange foliage in fall, and fruit about a centimeter in diameter that ripens from red to dark purple. The bottom of each fruit will have a five-pointed crown or collar. You’re right to be cautious…hope this helps.

      • kathy says:

        thanks for your help ellen!! i love the idea of foraging, but i rarely pick anything except for a few dandelion leaves in my sister’s backyard. 🤣 i really like identifying plants and learning more about them! thank you for teaching me more about serviceberries!!

  4. Meg says:

    Just looked up your entry after having feasted on the service berries at the retirement home across the street. It’s an annual rite of summer for my son and I. I never see anyone else eat them. Though occasionally passers-by will ask incredulously “are those edible?!”

    • Ellen says:

      Isn’t it funny how so many people are unaware of these delicious edibles that are all around us. Glad you’re appreciating the serviceberries!

  5. Kathy says:

    this is most helpful… our new house has a service berry tree… they are just turning purple now… I tasted one this morning…. with this information I will now go out and pick some…. yummy! I figured all the birds were on to something good…. I hope they leave me some berries.

  6. Amy says:

    I live in Northern Idaho and service berries grow all over my property. This year the berries are especially large. I’m hoping to make a liquor out of them this year. I love foraging!

  7. Nicola Bindon says:

    Hi, I’m in the UK and only just discovered Amalanchiers. I want one for my small urban garden (we don’t call them yards here unless they’re just concrete!) but at every garden centre I go to they look at me like I’m mad when I ask which species/varieties are best to eat. It’s really hard to find good information as they’re really only grown as ornamentals here, but my garden has to be productive AND beautiful so any advice on how to choose an Amalanchier would be much appreciated.

    • Ellen says:

      Don’t give up! The flavor of the fruit will vary from shrub to shrub (or tree to tree). Generally speaking, both A. canadensis and A. alnifolia are tasty, if grown under good conditions. I’d start by looking at either of those. If you come across another species and aren’t sure if it’s tasty, send me the name and I’ll help if I can.

  8. Jan says:

    Near my home in Colorado, they grow wild everywhere. And of course, we would never call them Juneberrys. because they’re barely blooming in June. I just harvested many mid-September this year!

    • Ellen says:

      You’re so lucky! And yes, I noticed that in CO (and NM, where I live) the fruit ripens much later than it does on the east coast.

  9. Dee Hillier says:

    Where I come from, service berries are called dog berries and vice versa. A Dogberry Tree is actually a rowan or mountain ash. I just wanted to clarify that for those reading from Atlantic Canada. It is not recommended to eat dogberries from the tree, After the frost takes them they are a little safer, but unripe dogberries can cause stomach upset and even kidney damage. Cooking them removes this risk.
    Just don’t want anyone on the East Coast getting sick because they feel completely safe eating a dogberry as they need to be completely ripe and then should be cooked, boiled, etc so they don’t upset the stomach.

    • Ellen says:

      This is a perfect example of why it’s so important to know the botanical Latin plant names! Common names are often easier to remember and pronounce than Latin names, but they change from place to place, which can result in confusion. Where are you from? When I google dogberry, several possibilities come up: rowan/mountain ash, chokeberry, dogwood, and several roses. I can also see that both dogberry and serviceberry are used as common names for Sorbus (rowan/mountain ash) in Atlantic Canada. But I can’t find anywhere that dogberry is used as a common name for Amelanchier, and I’m always curious about this kind of thing.

  10. Ben says:

    I grew up eating serviceberries. I always found to be bland but slightly sweet. Probably because the bushes on our property were wild and growing in nutrient poor sand.

  11. Sandra says:

    I loved reading your article. Your passion is obvious. A friend here in Atlanta has a small farm and she sells baskets of produce from it. This week, one of her offerings is serviceberries, which I’d never heard of until just now. A quick search about them brought me to you. Can’t wait to read more of your posts. Thanks so much.

  12. Julia says:

    It is totally the opportunity to harvest the berries we planted the serviceberry tree. Looking forward! Is it normal to have some green moss growing on the trunk?

    • Ellen says:

      It may be normal to have moss on the tree trunk, depending on where you live and what your growing conditions are like. Is there moss growing on any of your other trees?

  13. Cat says:

    I grew up in Alberta, calling them Saskatoon berries. I have lived in the Seattle area, and had fond memories of picking them. Now we have property in Winthrop WA, and I was thrilled to find many healthy bushes on our hill! I am looking forward to our harvest, and hoping the birds leave some for us.

    • Ellen says:

      Yes, Saskatoons are what they’re called on the west coast. I hope you convince the birds to share with you!

  14. Allen says:

    We planted a serviceberry a few years ago and that was the first time I noticed cedar wax wings in our neighborhood as they cleared the tree of is fruit. Thanks forthe tip on waiting until they are purple but by that time the birds have usually beat us to them. Any tips on beating the birds to the riper fruits? Also I noticed what may be spores or some disease on some of the fruit this year. I did see a way to post a pic here – if I find out how I will. Any safe way you could advise to help with this? Thanks!

    • Ellen says:

      There isn’t a way to post a photo here, but you can always post one on my FB page: https://www.facebook.com/thebackyardforager/ However, that may not be necessary. If the spores were orange and look like hairs coming out of the fruit and/or leaves, it’s cedar apple rust. I don’t know where you’re located, but it’s a common fungal disease in places that have cool, wet springs. It’s a dual host disease, requiring one host in the cedar family (like junipers) and one host in the apple family (like serviceberry). Spores travel on the wind, so even if you don’t have a juniper in your yard, they can arrive from down the block. In other words, it’s tough to break the cycle of this disease. You could try a fungicide, but it must be one rated safe for edibles, if you plan to eat your fruit. As far as beating the birds to the fruit…good luck! Their lives depend on the fruit and yours doesn’t, so they will ALWAYS be more motivated than you. Try using the same kind of netting that people use on blueberries. Even if you can only wrap the bottom part of your tree, that will allow you to share your harvest. The birds can have the fruit on the top and you can have the fruit on the bottom.

  15. Paul Johnston says:

    I just picked a quart and a half of service berries down the street from us in St. Paul, Minnesota. We have one in our backyard that I planted long ago, but it’s too shaded to bear fruit now. The fruit is delicious, I’m going to make some jam!

    • Ellen says:

      I’m sorry, but I don’t know much about toxicity for dogs. The ASPCA website has an exhaustive list of plants that are toxic to cats and dogs. Maybe you can find that information there?

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