Arkansas is rich with foods to forage (especially mushrooms!) but nothing is more special than the wild berries in Arkansas.
Since Arkansas has a subtropical climate, we boast hot summers and mild winters. This kind of weather ensures plenty of wild berries to enjoy while you sweat out the summer.
There are 8 types of wild berries that Arkansans enjoy the most. Some of them, like blackberries, might seem common to you, but have you ever foraged for juniper berries?
Wild Berries in Arkansas
This article was written for entertainment purposes only. It is not to be considered as expert advice. We are not suggesting or implying what is or is not safe to consume. Everyone’s bodies and reactions are different. There are many variables when foraging. Only two examples are: 1. Some wild edibles must be processed to remove toxins. 2. Be aware that many wild edible plants in Arkansas also have toxic lookalikes. Always seek expert help. Forage at your own risk.
Arkansas juniper berries have a very unique smell and flavor. Typically, people use them to season meat or infuse gin.
A juniper berry is the female seed cone produced by the various species of junipers. It is not a true berry, but a cone with unusually fleshy and merged scales, which gives it a berry-like appearance (source).
Keep in mind that the berries of some species are toxic.
Wine berries look a lot like raspberries. Some say they’re sweeter than raspberries but others say they’re a bit tart and waxy. Mostly, it just depends on when you pick them!
Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) is an invasive shrub in the same genus as raspberries and blackberries. It was introduced to North America in the 1890s as breeding stock for raspberries (source).
Typically, wine berries are considered invasive but Arkansans have found ways to make good use of them!
Wild wine berries are known to be found around Jasper, Arkansas.
American Beauty Berries
Foraging for beauty berries is a fun activity for many Arkansans. Many people make jelly, syrup for ice cream or even pie filling.
We have them growing wild on our property and the berries are strikingly beautiful.
An interesting use for the beauty berry is insect repellant.
“The beautyberry plant has been a traditional folk remedy for repelling mosquitoes, horseflies, deerflies, ticks, and other biting insects for over a century. Folks in the Mississippi hill country would cut the leafy branches, crush the leaves, and then place the branches between the harness and the horse to keep deerflies, horseflies, and mosquitoes away” (source).
I love picking wild blackberries. Around here, they grow wild all down our country road. Well, that was until the electric co-op came and mowed them all down. Don’t even get me started on that!
However, if you can find some that the electric co-op hasn’t mowed down, you will notice that they are much more flavorful than store-bought blackberries and they make great pies! Our wild blackberries are smaller than the store-bought varieties but they pack more of a punch.
Wild Arkansas blackberries can be harvested from late May through July.
Blackberry picking tips: Since blackberries turn black before they are fully ripe, take care to choose only firm, fully ripe fruit. Berries from wild and thorny cultivated types should be glossy black, while berries from cultivated thornless types should be a dull black (source).
Northern Spicebush Berries
Spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin) are like an undiscovered treasure to most Arkansans. That is mostly due to people not foraging much anymore. Also, some folks just don’t take the time to understand all the “wild things” that are growing around them.
However, the Spicebush is one of those wild plants that you should take a minute to learn about.
As the Backyard Forager says, “Spicebush berries, on the other hand, will knock your frickin’ socks off. I cannot praise the flavor highly enough. I’ve heard people describe it as tasting like a mix of allspice and pepper, but to me, the flavor defies description. It’s spicy, complex, dark, has a little heat, and there’s something floral in there, too. Try it for yourself and see” (source).
September is a great month for looking for Spicebush berries if the berries are what you’re going for but don’t pass up those leaves!
The Spicebush leaves are often used as a tea. However, you might need a “homesteaders palate” to appreciate the flavor.
“Early settlers used the Spicebush berries as an Allspice substitute (Foster and Duke, p. 283). in the modern kitchen, it can be used to make tea, in baking (eg, Gingerbread), ice cream and rice pudding, and flavoring of meat” (source).
“The plant’s yellow flowers bloom in late summer and early fall. Solidago virgaurea is the goldenrod species most commonly used for health purposes. Its flowers and leaves are used to make tea and dietary supplements” (source).
Some say that Goldenrod berries are great to eat fresh and also make great jam.
I’ve even heard of people making goldenrod infused honey and vinegar.
Last year, I made the mistake of confusing poke berries and sumac berries. From what I learned, it could have been a fatal mistake.
I quickly threw them out and washed my hands.
However, sumac berries are known to be tasty and very versatile.
Arkansans use sumac berries to make tea, a lemonade drink called “sumac-ade”, jelly, as an addition to hummus, and in the place of paprika.
“Sumac is a spice that is popular in the Middle East. The berries are turned into a coarse powder and sold as a ground spice; the berries are also available whole, although this is much less common in the U.S. Sumac is a versatile seasoning that adds a bright red color and a tartness, similar to lemon juice, to a dish” (source).
Elderberries. I really love elderberries. They grow wild in many areas of Arkansas.
I love to make elderberry syrup and a friend of mine makes elderberry jam.
“The elderberry grows as a tree and it is a wonderful addition to any edible garden. It also grows plentifully in the wild, particularly along river banks throughout the western parts of North America. This makes it a great wildcrafting plant though it’s important that you correctly identify the tree prior to using any unknown berries” (source).
Elderberries are easiest to locate in the spring because of their large white blossoms.
Read all about them here: 17 Wild Plants in Arkansas to Forage
Muscadines are a favorite treat in Arkansas for jams, jellies, wine or just late summer snacks.
“Muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia) are grapes native to Arkansas and other parts of the southeastern United States. The grapes have thick skins, large seeds, and a unique, soft, musky-flavored pulp. Cultivars can vary in color from almost white to nearly black” (source).
Read all about muscadines here: Muscadines in Arkansas – Like a grape but not really