Raspberries (Rubus idaeus): Short, thorny shrubs with arching canes and compound leaves. They grow in the sun on disturbed ground and along streams in the montane to subalpine zones. The red fruits are a little tart but delicious eaten fresh. They can be made into a sauce for ice cream or cheesecake. They also make excellent cobblers, pies, jams and jellies.
Chokecherries (Padus virginiana): Don’t be put off by the name; chokecherries are edible! Their black fruit (drupes) are astringent and when you eat them raw they make your lips feel puckered- kind of like your fingers and toes get when soaked in water too long. Chokecherries grow on large shrubs in thickets in the foothills and on mesas. The fruit hang in long clusters and are best picked after the first frost. Sometimes chokecherry jelly is difficult to jell, but it can be done. Use chokecherries to make syrup for pancakes or ice cream. I recently added some syrup to homemade lemonade and it was delicious! Warning: The leaves and seeds contain cyanide and can be poisonous.
Serviceberries (Amelanchier alnifolia and Amelanchier utahensis): Serviceberries are dark purple, several-seeded pomes (like apples) that grow on upright shrubs in the aspen zone. I often see them growing around mountain lakes. It is rare for them to get more than three to five feet tall in our area, due to wildlife grazing. Serviceberries are scrumptious eaten fresh, if you can get to them before the birds do! If you can find a lot, they make great jelly and pie. Native Americans dried them and combined them with dried venison and animal fat to make pemmican.
Gooseberries and Currants (Ribes spp). There are several different species of Ribes found in San Miguel County – they are generally medium-sized, prickly shrubs with palmately-lobed leaves. Some species grow in dry soil in sunny canyons, others in moist shade in the mountains. Most have hairy or prickly fruit. Fruit color ranges from green to red to purple. Some taste better than others; all varieties can be used in pies and to make jelly, and some make good juice, as well.
A few other edible fruits found in San Miguel County are wild strawberries, elderberries, buffaloberries, Oregon grape-holly, rose hips and blueberries.
Before you eat any wild fruit, be sure to correctly identify it! Also, be aware that some native fruits require special treatment before they are safe to eat. Ask people you can trust or look in regional edible-plant field guides.
We are looking for people interested in taking or helping teach classes on how to identify, gather, prepare and preserve native fruits and nuts! For more information on the plants discussed in this article or for help with plant identification call the Extension Office at 327-4393. We also have research-based publications with recipes and preservation tips. Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado counties cooperating. Extension programs are available to all without discrimination.