Friday, 22 April 2016
They're Chuck's favorite berries!
My new favorite fruit is honeyberry, I love just about everything about the plant. Called ‘haskap’ around the world, the name ‘honeyberry’ was given to this northern Asian native to popularize them in the US. A shrub honeysuckle, they’re an extremely cold hardy and somewhat drought tolerant plant, although they do better with adequate soil moisture and mulch to keep the soil cooler. This small 3-6 foot shrub is easy to harvest from and in my experience is a trouble free plant that just needs a some light pruning, mulch, and fertilization. The flowers are frost proof and bloom really early in the season and also provide some of the first fruit of the season. The dark one inch long fruits slightly resemble an elongated blueberry. It has a tart, slightly sweet and highly complex flavor rivaled only by the gooseberry or currant for complex flavor. Nutritional analysis shows that honeyberry is a phytonutrient powerhouse rich in antioxidants and anthocyanins. I love these berries so much they never make it much past the fresh stage so I have never tried cooking with them or preserving them, other than drying. Honeyberries do dry quite nicely, although the flavor changes somewhat, and they would likely make delicious jam and pies.
I put these delicious small native plums in the ‘berry’ category because of their size and smaller fruit size, and because they are a easy picking height colony-forming shrub, similar in habit to beach plum, another wonderful small native plum. Because they can become a colony forming shrub, they tend to root sprout easily, once established, then you just manage with some continual thinning out, once established, of the older stems in the clump. You should plant two or three of them in relative proximity for some cross pollination and let them spread by root sprouting over time. Individual stems will not live exceptionally long, but they will be replaced by new growth from the base and roots. Chickasaw plums prefer to be along fence rows and edges where they compete effectively with other sun loving edge species. I consider Chickasaw plum an all around underutilized plant, they have delicious fresh fruit, very pretty flowers and leaves, plus, due to their colony nature, the stone fruit stem diseases don’t seem to be as life threatening as they can be to other plums and cherries. Chickasaw plums produce abundant fruit about the size of a pie cherry and are exquisite eating in the yellow and red stages. The fruits turn from green to yellow to red when they’re fully ripe. Cooking the plums with the pits in and then removing them after is the easiest way to process them for jams. They make the best wild plum jam I have ever put in my mouth, with a much bigger ‘wild’ flavor than larger commercial plum varieties.
The Goumi cultivars like “Sweet Scarlet” and “Red Gem” are right up at the top of my list of useful plants. The best behaved of the Eleagnus genus (which includes autumn olives) they don’t show signs of seeding into the wild and are easy to maintain at a hand harvest height of 5-7 feet and fruit reliably heavily on an annual basis. Goumis are an ideal filler shrub in orchards because they have very few disease problems and provide nitrogen and ecosystem services to companion fruit trees when planted right outside the trees drip zone. Goumi releases nitrogen when pruned, so ideally prune it after it finishes fruiting about mid June which is a great time for the second fertilization for fruit trees and other companion plants. In early spring, Goumis are covered with clusters of delightfully fragrant, small yellowish flowers that provide a wonderful early nectar source for honeybees. The foliage is shiny, dark olive green, and nearly evergreen (leaves stay on until November or December and in some warmer climates all through the winter). They produce an abundant harvest of bright red berries which are extremely high in lycopene and other phytonutrient complexes. The seed is soft enough to be chewed up and contains omega-3 fatty acids. The ½ inch long, tangy Goumi fruits are great for eating fresh as well as making juice, mead, vinegar and I think it could make nice jams as well.
The mulberry tree, particularly its selected fruitful cultivars, is also at the top of my list of our most useful and valuable plants. Mulberry plants have been valued by humans for their various uses including food, fiber, medicine, and wood for thousands of years. One of the oldest fruits to be traded across continents, dried mulberries traveled the Silk Road, where they were a prized food for the wealthy elite of Turkey and Europe. Potentially a large tree, the mulberry can be grown as a coppiced shrub or modified pollard, to control its size for easier harvesting from the ground. Grown as a tree, the berries can be collected by putting a tarp or sheets under it to collect the fallen fruit. Check out our Useful Plants Nursery video on “Growing trees as shrubs” for helpful techniques in keeping mulberries in the shrub height range. Some varieties, such as ‘Illinois Everbearing’, will bear fruit over a longer period than some others.The berries are sweet, delicious and extremely nutritious fruits. White colored mulberries do not have the same antioxidant or anthocyanin content as the better flavored black mulberries. Next to fresh, I think the dried berries have the best flavor. After tasting a dried mulberry, you’ll never see a raisin the same way again, the dried mulberry is so superior in flavor. But the berries are only one aspect of this highly useful plant, some species of mulberry have traditionally been used in Asia to feed silkworms or been planted planted over carp ponds for their leaves and fruit used to feed their ancient aquaculture systems. Eating the leaves of some mulberry species, which are high in plant protein content, has kept people alive during times of famine. In traditional Chinese medicine, there are many different medicinal uses for the leaves, fruit, bark and roots. The inner bark is a wonderful cordage material and fiber for papermaking. These trees can be totally integrated into small scale animal production as feed for pigs and chickens. I would consider this a keystone species for an abundant permaculture guild. Just please don’t plant them next to paved surfaces or walkways where the fruit will get stepped on and be wasted, or likely turn your car into a beautiful splotchy purple dispersion device for mulberry seeds.