On day 172 of my 366-day self-care challenge, I enjoyed the summer harvest by picking huckleberries.
Before moving to the Pacific Northwest, I had no idea what a huckleberry even looked like. The only reference I had was Val Kilmer’s famous line in the movie Tombstone, “I’ll be your huckleberry.”
My Midwest roots were familiar with black raspberries, red raspberries, blackberries and blueberries — that was about the extent of my knowledge when it came to foraging.
But soon after our first spring here, we began noticing some bright red huckleberries bobbing in the wind. They reminded me of holly berries, but were much brighter and more delicate.
Honestly, I was afraid to eat any berries at first. Several varieties are known to be toxic (devil’s club, yew and unripe elderberries, to name a few), and I wasn’t at all confident in my ability to distinguish the subtle differences between what was edible and what wasn’t. But after consulting with a local horticulturist, I’m amazed at the amount of naturally growing food just a few feet from my doorstep.
Since that time we’ve discovered at least nine varieties of edible berries on our property alone: blueberries, raspberries, Oregon grape, salmonberries, strawberries, salal, blackberries, kinnikinnik, and of course, red huckleberries.
Which brings me to my self-care practice for the day…
Yesterday, after starting the morning off with a 3-hour hike, my husband and I harvested huckleberries. We learned quickly that hand-picking each tiny berry would have taken weeks, so we purchased a berry rake to make the job much easier.
As it turns out, the red huckleberry isn’t that common; purple or blue huckleberries are what you most often find at nurseries and greenhouses. The red varieties require very specific growing conditions: acidic soil, part shade, and an abundance of decaying wood — all of which can be found easily in my yard, which is essentially a conifer forest.
Later in the day, as I sat in my swing thinking about what to do with all the berries, I noticed that the Robin I’d been watching for the past couple of weeks was now hovering over some tiny, chirping beaks. The babies had finally arrived! She had been tending to the nest faithfully, only leaving occasionally when frightened by movement or loud noises. I watched her for a while as she returned frequently with goodies for her new arrivals, and it dawned on me that they probably enjoy huckleberries too.
Thankfully, there are plenty to go around.