COLUMN: Fruit of the Month: Juneberries Bring the Berry Best

By Candace Nelson - 7:06 PM

Here's my latest newspaper column:

It’s a small, round berry that comes in shades of purple and black. It’s sweet and has notes of vanilla and cherry.

And, most importantly, they hit the peak of freshness right now - in June.

Juneberries can be found across Appalachia on rocky hillsides, edges of forests and well-draining soils.

The shrubs are known for their white blossoms in early spring, which later give way to clusters of juneberries. They’re also referred to as Saskatoon, shadbush, serviceberries or sarvis berries.

The name “serviceberry” is believed to have originated from the Appalachian tradition of conducting burial services in early spring once the ground has thawed, coinciding with the bloom of the serviceberry, or juneberry.

Indigenous peoples of the Appalachians, such as the Cherokee and Iroquois, valued juneberries for their nutritional benefits and versatility. They used the berries not only as a food source but also in traditional medicine, recognizing their high vitamin and antioxidant content.

Early European settlers learned from Native Americans how to incorporate these berries into their diets, especially during the lean months when other food sources were scarce.

Juneberries became a staple in pies, jams, and as a natural sweetener.

Juneberries continue to hold a special place in the hearts and traditions of local communities in Appalachia.

The berries are an ingredient in many traditional recipes used today. Pies, cobblers, jams, and jellies are among the most popular ways to enjoy juneberries. They can also be dried and used in baking or as a snack, much like raisins.

The berries, though, are often difficult to grow commercially. So, if you endeavor to forage for your own juneberries, be sure to do so safely and consult multiple sources of information to identify them correctly before enjoying.

Juneberries are more than just a beloved fruit in Appalachia; they are a symbol of the region’s rich history and food traditions. Using these foraged treasures help tell the story of bounty of the mountains — while providing a delicious berry bite. 

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