It’s berry picking season here in Southeast Alaska. Right now, blueberries, salmonberries, wild strawberries, thimbleberries, currants, and huckleberries are in abundance along creeks, roadsides, and mountain shrubs. Articles from historic Alaska newspapers chronicled the status of wild berries. Without the modern convenience of the Internet, or even comprehensive berry guides, people turned to newspapers and relied on the berry picking know-how of their peers in order to harvest their own bounty of berries.
When going berry picking, it is important to take necessary precautions:
Be mindful of your surroundings. Berries can grow almost everywhere, and many plants can grow several feet tall. These plants can disguise uneven ground, and a false step can send you tumbling down a ravine. A handful of berries is not worth the risk of a serious injury. Encounters with bears or other wild life can occur as well, so it is best to make noise to make others aware of your presence.
Bring a plant identification book. Although this point may seem obvious, many berries can appear similar, and what you don’t know can kill you. Bookstores often carry a wide selection of pamphlets and books on berries and berry-like plants that use photos for clear identification. And don’t forget to wash your berries once you get home!
Dress for inclement weather. Even though the hot weather this past month has been a welcome reprieve from the overcast skies and rain, it is important to wear long sleeves and pants to protect your skin from insects and other plants. Because berry plants are often near water, Xtratuf boots or shoes that are waterproof are a must. While Alaska does not have the abundance of poison oak and poison ivy that the Lower 48 has, we have plenty of cow parsnip. Cow parsnip is a ubiquitous plant and skin irritant that can cause rashes when brushed up against exposed skin. Additionally, the sap from cow parsnip can render skin photosensitive and can cause sunburns.
Be patient- and have a full tank of gas! It can be frustrating to search for berries and come up empty. Once-reliable spots can become picked over, and it can take some driving around to find another berry hot spot. Asking around longtime residents can be useful, but some can be unwilling to divulge prized locations. Checking around online and on social media are good ways to gauge decent areas for berries.
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Among the useful items to pack are insect repellent, calamine lotion, sunscreen, water, a hat, a rainproof jacket, toilet paper, a bag for trash, granola bars, towels, a guide to wild berries and roadside plants in Alaska, and, of course, a container for holding berries (ideally one with a lid).
Happy picking- and stay safe!