Garden Huckleberry - Knowledgebase Question

Des Moines, WA
Avatar for micklex
Question by micklex
August 26, 1999
I've looked all over the web and cannot find any satisfactory statements, faq's, articles, descriptions, lists, or blurps about the Garden Huckleberry (Solanum Guineese). I know what they look like, I have a few of them in my parent's yard. They have plenty of black fruit on them, and I don't need advice on how to grow them, it's pretty simple. However, absolutely no where I have looked does anyone simply describe how to tell if they are ripe(I.E., how soft are they, how big, how deep a black color, what season, etc., etc.), or how to prepare them. Yes, they go in pies, stews, etc., but do you boil or parboil them? Do you peel them? Do you mix them with other fruits, and what kind? Can they be dried and used as a tea or a spice? These are questions that anyone who has never seen them or cultivated them would want to know, yet no one has seen clear to provide even a clue as to where to find such information, and what little information I have found, it conflicts. I have seen the Garden Huckleberry referred to as several different types of solanum, but I have only one specific variety, and is it the best for cultivation or the worst?

Answer from NGA
August 26, 1999
You may be having difficulty finding information because huckleberry is Vaccinium ovatum, a member of the heather family. (This is very apparent when the shrub is flowering. Both heather and huckleberry have bell-shaped flowers.)
Evergreen and red huckleberry plants are native to the Pacific Northwest. According to the book Food for First Peoples by Nancy J. Turner, the berries of the evergreen huckleberry are harvested in late autumn (usually late October and early November). Those not harvested will remain on the shrubs well into the winter. The berries are small, black and shiny (or occasionally dusty blue), and have a sweet, slightly dry taste.

Another reference you can consult is Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Pojar Mackinnon. In this book the berry is described as somewhat musky in taste, and is eaten fresh, preserved in oil, or dried.

Hope the above helps you identify the huckleberry in your garden and how to preserve and enjoy the fruit.

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