10 Tasty Wild Berries to Try (and 8 Poisonous Ones to Avoid)
By Ryan Raman
Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are commonly available in grocery stores, but many equally delicious berries are abundant in the wild.
Wild berries thrive in many climates, and they're packed with nutrients and powerful plant compounds. Though wild berries can be tart, they're quite versatile and can be enjoyed in a wide variety of ways.
However, some wild berries contain toxic compounds. If eaten in high amounts, they may cause uncomfortable symptoms or even be fatal.
Here are 10 delicious and safe wild berries you can eat — and 8 poisonous ones to avoid.
Elderberries are the fruit of various species of the Sambucus plant.
They thrive in mild to subtropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The fruit tends to grow in small clusters and is black, bluish-black, or purple.
Though the berries of most Sambucus varieties are edible, the Sambucus nigra L. ssp. canadensis variety is the most commonly consumed type.
It's important to note that elderberries need to be cooked to inactivate alkaloid compounds that can cause nausea if the berries are eaten raw (1).
Elderberries have a tart, tangy taste, which is why they're typically cooked and sweetened to make juices, jams, chutneys, or elderberry wine.
These berries are a great source of vitamin C, with 1 cup (145 grams) providing 58% of your daily needs. Vitamin C plays many vital roles in your body but is particularly important for your immune system.
Elderberries are also rich in vitamin B6, which supports immune function.
The nutrient composition of elderberries and elderberry products makes them particularly effective at boosting immune health.
For example, a study in 312 adults found that taking 300 mg of an elderberry extract supplement both before and after traveling significantly reduced the duration and severity of colds, compared with a placebo.
Elderberries have a tart, tangy taste when raw, so they're best enjoyed cooked. They're loaded with vitamin C and vitamin B6, both of which support immune health.
Cloudberries are berries of the plant Rubus chamaemorus, which grows in higher elevations in cool, boggy areas in the Northern Hemisphere.
The cloudberry plant has white flowers, and the yellow-to-orange fruit resembles a raspberry.
Fresh cloudberries are soft, juicy, and fairly tart. Their taste is best described as a mix between raspberries and red currants — with a hint of floral sweetness. They are safe to eat raw.
Cloudberries are high in vitamin C, providing 176% of your daily needs in 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
They're also high in ellagitannins, which are powerful antioxidants that can help protect your cells from free radical damage.
What's more, according to animal and test-tube studies, ellagitannins may have anticancer effects, boost your immune system, and fight inflammation.
Cloudberries have a slightly tart, sweet taste. They contain powerful antioxidants known as ellagitannins that may protect against free radical damage and offer other health benefits.
Huckleberry is the North American name for the berries of several plant species in the Vaccinium and Gaylussacia genera.
Wild huckleberries grow in mountainous regions, forests, bogs, and lake basins in Northwestern America and Western Canada. The berries are small and either red, blue, or black.
Ripe huckleberries are fairly sweet with a little tartness. Though they can be eaten fresh, they're often made into tasty beverages, jams, puddings, candies, syrups, and other foods.
Huckleberries are rich in powerful antioxidants, including anthocyanins and polyphenols. In fact, they contain more of these beneficial compounds than antioxidant-rich fruits like blueberries.
Diets rich in anthocyanins and polyphenols have been linked to impressive health benefits, including reduced inflammation, a lower risk of heart disease, and anticancer effects.
Huckleberries are fairly sweet with a little tartness and can be enjoyed fresh or cooked. They're rich in powerful antioxidants, including anthocyanins and polyphenols.
Gooseberries belong to two major groups — European gooseberries (Ribes grossularia var. uva-crispa) and American gooseberries (Ribes hirtellum).
They're native to Europe, Asia, and North America and grow on a bush approximately 3–6 feet (1–1.8 meters) high. The berries are small, round, and vary from green to red or purple in color.
Gooseberries can be very tart or very sweet. They're eaten fresh or used as an ingredient in pies, wines, jams, and syrups.
They're high in vitamin C, with 1 cup (150 grams) providing 46% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI).
In addition, the same serving packs a whopping 6.5 grams of dietary fiber, which is 26% of the daily value. Dietary fiber is a type of indigestible carb that's essential for healthy digestion.
They also contain the antioxidant protocatechuic acid, which has been shown to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects in animal and test-tube studies.
Although these results are promising, more human research is needed to confirm these potential benefits.
Gooseberries can be tart or sweet and enjoyed fresh or cooked. They're high in fiber, vitamin C, and the antioxidant protocatechuic acid.
Chokeberries (Aronia) grow on a shrub that's native to eastern North America.
They have a semisweet yet tart taste and can be eaten fresh, although they're more commonly made into wines, jams, spreads, juices, teas, and ice cream.
Chokeberries typically grow in wet woods and swamps. There are three main species of chokeberry — the red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), and purple chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia).
Chokeberries are particularly high in vitamin K, a nutrient that supports bone health and is needed for important bodily functions, such as proper blood clotting.
They're also high in antioxidants, such as phenolic acids, anthocyanins, flavonols, and proanthocyanidins. These powerful plant compounds give chokeberries one of the highest antioxidant capacities of all fruits.
Chokeberries have a semisweet yet tart taste and can be enjoyed fresh or cooked. They're high in vitamin K and numerous antioxidants.
Mulberries (Morus) are a group of flowering plants that belong to the Moraceae family.
They grow in mild to subtropical regions in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Mulberries are multiple fruits, which means they grow in clusters.
The berries are approximately 3/4 to 1 1/4 inches (2–3 cm) in length and typically dark purple to black in color. Some species can be red or white.
Mulberries are juicy and sweet and can be enjoyed fresh or in pies, cordials, and herbal teas. They're packed with vitamin C and provide good amounts of B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium.
Additionally, 1 cup (140 grams) of mulberries offers an impressive 14% of your daily iron needs. This mineral is necessary for important processes in your body, such as growth, development, and blood cell production.
What's more, mulberries are packed with anthocyanins, which are plant pigments that are strong antioxidants.
Test-tube and animal studies show that mulberry extract may help lower blood sugar levels, aid weight loss, fight cancer, and protect your brain from damage.
All of these benefits may be due to its high concentration of antioxidants, which include anthocyanins.
Mulberries are juicy, sweet berries that are delicious fresh or cooked. They're high in iron and anthocyanin antioxidants.
Salmonberries are the fruit of the Rubus spectabilis plant, which belongs to the rose family.
The plants are native to North America, where they can grow up to 6.6–13 feet (2–4 meters) tall in moist coastal forests and along shorelines.
Salmonberries are yellow to orange-red and look like blackberries. They're fairly tasteless and can be eaten raw.
However, they're commonly combined with other ingredients and made into jam, candy, jelly, and alcoholic drinks.
Salmonberries are a good source of manganese, providing 55% of the RDI in 3.5 ounces (100 grams). Manganese is essential for nutrient metabolism and bone health, and it has powerful antioxidant effects.
The berries also contain good amounts of vitamins K and C, offering 18% and 15% of the RDI in a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, respectively.
Salmonberries are fairy tasteless when fresh, so they're commonly made into jams, wines, and other foods. They're a good source of manganese and vitamins C and K.
8. Saskatoon Berries
Amelanchier alnifolia is a shrub that's native to North America.
It grows 3–26 feet (1–8 meters) high and produces edible fruit known as saskatoon berries. These purple berries are approximately 1/4–1 inch (5–15 mm) in diameter.
They have a sweet, nutty flavor and can be eaten fresh or dried. They're used in pies, wines, jams, beer, cider, and sometimes cereals and trail mixes.
Saskatoon berries are one of the best sources of riboflavin (vitamin B2), containing nearly 3 times your daily needs in 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
Riboflavin — like other B vitamins — plays an essential role in energy production. It's needed to turn your food into energy and may protect your nervous system against disorders like Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Saskatoon berries have a sweet, nutty flavor and can be enjoyed both fresh and dried. They're incredibly high in riboflavin, a very important nutrient.
Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) is a grapevine species native to the United States.
Muscadines have a thick skin that ranges from bronze to dark purple to black. They have a very sweet yet musky taste, and their flesh's texture is similar to that of plums.
Muscadines are bursting with riboflavin (vitamin B2), with a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving providing 115% of the RDI. They're also high in dietary fiber — containing 4 grams per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, or 16% of the daily value.
Dietary fiber may help reduce blood cholesterol levels, promote healthy digestion, and increase weight loss and feelings of fullness.
These grape-like fruits are not only high in riboflavin and dietary fiber but also contain resveratrol.
This antioxidant is found in the skin of grapes. Human and animal studies show that resveratrol promotes healthy blood sugar levels and may protect against heart disease and certain cancers.
Muscadine berries have a sweet yet musky taste. They're high in fiber, riboflavin, and resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant.
Buffaloberries (Shepherdia) are the fruit of small shrubs in the Elaeagnaceae family.
The plants are native to North America and 3–13 feet (1–4 meters) in height. Silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea) is the most common species. It has green leaves covered with fine silvery hairs and pale-yellow flowers that lack petals.
Buffaloberries have a rough, dark red skin with little white dots. Fresh berries are quite bitter, so they're often cooked and made into delicious jams, jellies, and syrups. Eating too many of these berries in any form can cause diarrhea.
These berries are bursting with antioxidants, including lycopene.
Lycopene is a powerful pigment that gives red, orange, and pink fruits their characteristic color. It has been linked to a number of health benefits.
For example, studies have associated lycopene with a reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and eye conditions, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD).
Buffaloberries are fairly bitter but can be made into delicious jams and syrups. They're high in lycopene, an antioxidant linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, eye conditions, and certain cancers.
8 Poisonous Wild Berries to Avoid
While many wild berries are delicious and safe to eat, some you should avoid.
Certain berries contain toxic compounds that may cause uncomfortable or fatal side effects.
Here are 8 poisonous wild berries to avoid:
- Holly berries. These tiny berries contain the toxic compound saponin, which may cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps.
- Mistletoe. This popular Christmas plant has white berries that contain the toxic compound phoratoxin. It can cause stomach issues and a slow heartbeat (bradycardia), as well as brain, kidney, and adrenal gland toxicity.
- Jerusalem cherries. Also known as Christmas orange, this plant has yellow-red berries that contain solanine, a compound that can cause gastrointestinal infections, stomach cramping, and an irregular heartbeat (tachycardia).
- Bittersweet. Also called woody nightshade, berries from this plant contain solanine. They're similar to Jerusalem cherries and can cause similar side effects.
- Pokeweed berries. These purple berries look like grapes but contain toxic compounds in the roots, leaves, stem, and fruit. This plant tends to get more toxic as it matures, and eating the berries is potentially fatal.
- Ivy berries. Purple-black to orange-yellow in color, these berries contain the toxin saponin. They may cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps.
- Yew berries. These bright red berries contain potentially toxic seeds. One study showed that eating too many yew seeds caused seizures.
- Virginia creeper berries. These climbing vine berries contain toxic amounts of calcium oxalate. Consuming too much of this compound can have toxic effects on your kidneys.
This list is not exhaustive, and many other poisonous berries grow in the wild. Some toxic berries even look similar to edible ones.
For this reason, the utmost caution must be taken when harvesting wild berries. If you're ever unsure whether a wild berry is safe, it's best to avoid it.
Many wild berries contain toxic compounds. Be extremely cautious when picking wild berries for consumption.
Many wild berries are delicious and safe to eat.
They're often packed with nutrients and powerful antioxidants that can provide various health benefits, such as boosting immunity, protecting your brain and heart, and reducing cellular damage.
However, some wild berries are poisonous and potentially fatal. If you're unsure about a species of wild berry, it's best to avoid eating it, as it's not worth the risk.