Wineberries: A Summer Treat
It’s that time of year again when the children visiting the Wissahickon Valley become captivated with a certain red berry called wineberry. “Do they taste like Wine?” Some ask. “Do you make wine with them?” (We don’t but some people do.) Once they are convinced they won’t become intoxicated by eating them, the children tentatively taste the berries.
It takes a lot to convince most urban children that it is okay to eat certain plants from the woods. “Isn’t it dirty? What if something pooped on it?” Once they have tasted a ripe wineberry though, we have created wineberry monsters! We try to schedule most groups for early July when the wineberries will be ripe. This way all kids get the opportunity to taste something picked directly from nature.
Wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) are an invasive plant. Also know as wine raspberry, the plant was introduced from eastern Asia in 1890 to be breeding stock for new cultivars of raspberries. Birds, reptiles, and mammals contribute to the spread of wineberries by eating and dispersing the seeds. It can also reproduce when its long arching stems lay on the ground and take root. This multi-stemmed, arching shrub is covered in tiny reddish hairs. Its Latin name means raspberry with purple hairs. It has compound leaves with three leaflets, green on the top and white underneath. White flowers appear in late spring. Wineberries grow in sunny patches in the forest, in fields, and along roadsides.
Wineberries taste a lot like a raspberry, but are usually more tart. They start out a white color, then move to an orange, and then to a red color. They taste sweetest when completely ripe but sometimes we’ll try an orange one, and it’s just a bit too sour! Wineberries have vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber, and minerals. If you can’t eat them fast enough, they can be frozen.
Like any wild food you find to eat there are precautions and courtesies to follow. Make sure you know what you are eating! Leave some for the wildlife, don’t trample and damage an area in your quest for that next ripe berry, and make sure the area you are harvesting from has not been sprayed with an herbicide. Try some wineberries this summer, but leave some for our young visitors too!
By Trish Fries, Environmental Education Program Specialist at the Wissahickon Environmental Center (Andorra Tree House).