bunchberry

Medicinal Summer Berries

I’ve been a wild berry picker since I could crawl. I remember sitting in fields while my mother and aunts would forage for fruits, and as I got older, I would do my part to fill the buckets instead of emptying them into my mouth. Wild berry gathering has the benefit of being a free source of food that is nutritiously equivalent to,  if not superior to, cultivated fruits, plus it offers a valuable outing into nature.

Wild fruits add variety to the diet and are easy to prepare. They are great simply eaten fresh from the bush. They may also be transformed into jams, jellies, syrups, sauces, teas and wines, or preserved by freezing, drying and canning.

August brings us several wild berries, some familiar like the raspberry, blackberry and blueberry, and others that are not as well known.  In addition to these fruits being yummy and nutritious, they, along with other parts of the plant they come from, offer medicinal properties as well.  Berries are high in anthocyanins, flavonoids, micronutrients and fiber.  These and other compounds contained in berries offer benefits is cases of heart disease, diabetes, inflammation and cancer. They protect blood vessels and help prevent atherosclerosis. 

Most of the berries noted below are native to Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada, and readily available; why purchase expensive, exotic berries from the Amazon with such an abundance of “super foods” in our own backyards!

Bunchberry

Found growing in coniferous forests from July through until September.  Their bright red colour make them hard to miss, they are about the size of a pea and grow in clusters on top of a short stem.  They are juicy and mild tasting, but have a single hard seed inside that makes them hard to eat.  I like them boiled as a tea or sauce.  The leaf and root were used medicinally by first nations people for lung and kidney ailments and aches and pains.

bunchberryWintergreen

Another red berry of the forest, the berry and leaves can be found year -round, even buried under the snow.  Both have a strong flavour, used  toothpaste and chewing gum.  Wintergreen leaves were used traditionally for arthritis, colds, headache and indigestion.

Raspberry

The leaves of wild raspberry bushes have been used as medicine for thousands of years.  They are astringent and thus helpful in cases of diarrhea, bleeding and ulcers.  It is a popular women’s herb during pregnancy and childbirth.  Use 1 tsp. of the dry herb or 2 tsp. fresh per cup of tea.  The leaves contain iron, calcium and other minerals that can be extracted by steeping them in apple cider vinegar for two weeks.  Once strained the mineral rich vinegar can be added to salad dressings or taken as a tonic mixed with water.

Blackberry

The leaves have the same medicinal properties as raspberry leaves, both can also be used externally as a wash for sores and as a gargle for inflamed mouth and throat.  I just made a big batch of blackberry syrup, which is loaded with antioxidant nutrients.  I like to add it to sparkling water. Recipe below.

Staghorn sumac

The berries of this shrubby tree form in dense, cone shaped, upright masses.  The small individual berries are hard, hairy and not very fleshy, and are a deep red or burgundy colour.  They make a tangy red coloured tea.  The berries were used medicinally by first nations people to treat fever, diabetes, lung ailments and as a wash for ringworm.  The leaves, bark and twigs were also used medicinally.

Blueberry

North American First nations people used the leaf tea as a blood purifier, for colic, labour pains, and as a tonic after miscarriage.  The leaf is used in modern herbal medicine to treat diabetes and to balance blood sugar levels.  It is astringent and can be gargled or used as a mouth rinse, and for diarrhea.

The fruits of this genus – blueberries, bilberries, huckleberries – are known to have potent medicinal properties.  They are especially valuable for treating the eyes and to strengthen blood vessels.  They contain antioxidant compounds.  A tea made from the dried berries is helpful for diarrhea.

False Lily of the Valley

This herb carpets forest floors throughout Nova Scotia, producing a sweet-scented blossom in June and tasty berries in late summer.  The berries start off as a translucent white colour with speckles and mature into a wine-red colour when ripe.  They may be small but packed with juice and a distinctive flavour.  First nations peoples used the leaves and flowers as a remedy for headaches, sore throat, and cough.

Black Elderberry

Made popular in recent years as a remedy to prevent and treat common cold and flu, this shrubby tree has been prized for its medicinal properties for many centuries.  All parts of the tree can be used, especially the flower and fruit.  The berries are best cooked before eating, either as a tea, syrup or jelly.  They are ready for harvest between mid-August and mid-September; get them while you can, the birds like them too for strengthening their vision for their migration south.

Cranberry

I classify this as one of our best local “superfoods”, rich in antioxidants and vitamin C.  It can be used to prevent/treat dental and urinary infection by making it difficult for bacteria to adhere to the lining of the bladder and gums.  Try dehydrating them to add to granola or cookies, or make a sauce sweetened with honey.

BLACKBERRY SYRUP

2 cups fresh blackberries

4 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp. cloves

2 cups honey

Gently simmer the berries and spices for about 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain, pressing all the liquid from the fruit.  While still warm, stir in the honey.  Cap and label. This syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.  Add to sparkling water and herbal cocktails, yogurt, smoothies.

Sample studies on the health benefits of berries from Dr. Mercola’s Food Facts https://foodfacts.mercola.com/:

A review published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research also supported the chemopreventive properties of cranberries, highlighting their ability to help inhibit the growth and spread of several types of tumors, including those in the breast, colon, prostate and lungs, possibly due to the flavonols and anthocyanin glycosides in these fruits.21

Some of the most researched benefits of blueberries are their antioxidant and antiaging properties. Several studies have shown that blueberries may help protect against age-related deficits in memory and motor function, possibly due to the fruit’s polyphenolic compounds having the ability to help lower oxidative stress, fight inflammation and change neuronal signaling.22,23,24,25,26

Another study also found that stomach, prostate, intestinal and breast cancer cells were inhibited when patients were tested with an array of different berry juices, including raspberry, black currant, white currant, gooseberry, velvet leaf blueberry, low-bush blueberry and other lesser-known berry types. While some berries had little or no effect on cancer cells, researchers concluded that including berry juices in the diet might prove chemopreventive.28

Blackberries may also have beneficial effects on your brain health. In another Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry study, high antioxidant levels in blackberries, strawberries and other berries are found to help manage age-related memory loss.51 Study authors further reiterated that:52