Early-summer rains provided a boost to wild berry crops, and the hills and stream bottoms of western Larimer County now hold potential for a jam-packed harvest.
Chokecherries can be readily found in the Poudre and Big Thompson canyons and along such streams as the North Fork of the Poudre, Lone Pine Creek and the three forks of Rabbit Creek in the Cherokee Park State Wildlife Area.
Currants can be found in open meadows, alongside creeks and even as individual shrubs on dry hillsides. Currants don’t come only in black; some varieties are pink or golden. Other berries such as serviceberry and even gooseberries can be found by the intrepid explorer.
In higher and wetter areas one can find wild strawberries and even raspberries, although the harvests can be meager. In the Kuwanachee Valley on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, wild strawberries literally carpet many areas of open forest floor, but the individual berries rarely grow larger than the size of a pea.
Wild berries are rich in vitamin C, enzymes and antioxidants and are both organic and local. When made into jams or jellies they can provide a unique and piquant taste. “Chokecherries from the Poudre Canyon made the best jam I’ve ever canned,” said Virginia Slauson of Fort Collins.
Such berries can also be used to make sauces for topping ice cream, yogurt or cereal. Crafters of wine and mead are pleased to find that a single currant shrub can produce a quart or more of the tasty berries, easily picked.
Reghan Cloudman, spokesperson for the Canyon Lakes Ranger District, notes that harvesting berries on public land is legal as long as the fruit is not used in any product made for resale. She also says that the Forest Service does not encourage this activity because it can be dangerous.
Bears also enjoy the berries, so anyone picking wild berries should be on the alert for bear activity. In this season, bear scat can be easily recognized by the large quantities of digested berries in it.
Another danger is that not all berries are edible; some are poisonous. Take a plant identification book along with you if at all possible. As a general rule, avoid all white berries and any red berries that are hard and have shiny skins.
Private lands are also a good source for berries, but be sure to ask permission first. Many ranchers and landowners in the area will say “yes” to anyone courteous enough to ask, and may give you directions on where the best spots are.