By Jan Cashman
We all know that strawberries and raspberries grow easily in our mountain climate. Both are highly nutritious sources of antioxidants, Vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals. Blueberries are also super-nutritious but harder to grow here where soils tend to be too alkaline for them. What about some of the more unusual nutritious berries you might have been reading about? Some of these nutritious berries such as Acia grow in subtropical climates. But here are four nutritious berries that we can grow easily in our climate:1. Honeyberries (Lonicera caerulea), in the honeysuckle genus and native to Eastern Russia, are an excellent source of Vitamin C and antioxidants. Four good varieties that are available to plant are: Berry Blue, Borealis, Cinderella, and Tundra. You will need to plant two different varieties within 50 feet of each other for pollination.
- Honeyberry shrubs grow to 3 to 4 feet. The fruit can be described as larger than a blueberry but similar in taste. They can be eaten fresh or made into jams or jellies, and pies. Easy to grow and not fussy, they prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Although honeyberries are drought tolerant, these shallow rooted plants will need frequent watering at first until they become established. They bear on one-year growth so do not prune back the tips where the flowers and then the fruit will be. Net from the birds. Honeyberries will ripen here in July.
- Jostaberries (Ribes x culverwelii), a cross between black currants and gooseberries, are an excellent source of Vitamin C. They are self-fruitful, but you might want to plant more than one plant so you get plenty of fruit. Jostberries make good jam and are supposed to be tastier than black currant. Like the honeyberry, they need to be netted from the birds.
- Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis) is a large (8-10 ft.) hardy native shrub that produces bluish-black fruit in bunches of little berries. It is antioxidant-rich and high in Vitamins A and C and other vitamins and minerals. The fruit is good for wine, juice, pies, jelly and jam but is quite bitter for eating fresh.
You get better pollination of elderberries with two different varieties, such as York and Adams. Prune out old wood after 3 years or so on this fast-growing shrub. Birds like to eat elderberries, too, so net them if you plan to harvest.
- Glossy Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is another easy-to-grow shrub native to the Eastern U.S, that grows to four to five feet tall. It has fragrant white flowers that mature into dark purple-black berries with high levels of antioxidants, anthocyanins, and flavonoids. Although sour eaten raw (hence the name chokeberry), the berries make good juice, syrup, wine, jam and jelly. Chokeberry shrubs are relatively pest-free and drought resistant. An added bonus is their beautiful red-orange fall leaf color.
Plant these shrubs to make your yard not just beautiful but fruitful. If you can’t make your own, Rocky Creek Farms east of Bozeman sells a delicious jelly made from chokeberries.