This is a great berry to find while hiking anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. They really do grow nearly everywhere west of the Cascades. Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) is a species of Vaccinium native to the western North America, where it is common in forests from southeastern Alaska and British Columbia south through western Washington and Oregon to central California. In the Oregon Coast Range, it is the most common Vaccinium. It occurs mostly at low to middle elevations in soil enriched by decaying wood and on rotten logs, from sea level up to 1,820-metre (6,000 ft). I see it a lot on rotten old growth stumps. Which usually means it is to high off the ground for me to reach to eat the berry without some climbing and gymnastic.
Indigenous people’s found the plant and its fruit very useful. The bright red, acidic berries were used extensively for food throughout the year. Fresh berries were eaten in large quantities, or used for fish bait because of the slight resemblance to salmon eggs. And yes this does work. I used to do it in Alaska when I was younger to catch Dolly Varden. Berries were also dried for later use. Dried berries were stewed and made into sauces, or mixed with salmon spawn and oil and eaten at winter feasts. The bark of the plant was used as a cold remedy thanks to the therapeutic acid called quinic acid. The leaves were made into tea or smoked. The branches were used as brooms, and the twigs were used to fasten western skunk cabbage leaves into berry baskets. Huckleberries make a good jelly, or can be eaten as dried fruit or tea.
Current uses: Red huckleberries are edible and widely used today for pies, jams, jellies, and are frozen or canned. A wine can be made from the fruit. Red huckleberries are quite tart, so some people prefer the blue huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum). The berries can be dried, mashed, or pressed for juice. The leaves can be used fresh or dried to make tea. Red huckleberry makes an attractive and versatile ornamental. Sometimes, the branches are used for floral arrangements. It takes a lot of berries to make some of these so gather as much as you can.
Huckleberry jam (this recipe is from a book published from the Siuslaw National park in the 1970’s)
- 6 cups crushed huckleberries
- 1 pkg powdered pectin
- 8 cups sugar
- 9 1/2 pint jars
Wash and drain berries then crush. Put the 6 cups of berries into a 6 quart pan. Stir in pectin and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar, stir until mixture comes to a boil then boil exactly 2 minutes. Remove from heat and skim. Place in jars and process.