Last Updated on October 6, 2022
Whether you call these yummy purple fruits saskatoon berries, juneberries, serviceberries, shadbush, or something else entirely, when you taste your first juneberry, you won’t believe you’ve lived without them all these years! These nutritious and flavorful berries are a delicious addition to any yard, and they’re easy and fun to forage. And seriously, who doesn’t want free fruit?
Whatever your preferred name for them, these wonderful little berry deserves wider attention — full of rich summer flavor and healthy nutrients, juneberries are a winner for your edible landscape and adventures in foraging. Read on to find out more about this many-named berry that I hope will find its way to your table this season!
What is Saskatoon Berry, Juneberry, Serviceberry, or Shadbush?
I learned about what we here in central Minnesota call juneberries when I started looking for trees to add to our edible front yard. The landscaper recommending them called them serviceberry, which struck me as an odd name indeed. (Here’s an explanation of its origin if you’re curious.)
If you want to get technical, the botanical name for juneberry is amelanchier. Serviceberry (or juneberry or saskatoon berry) is in the same family as roses, apples, and plums. There are many different varieties, and you’ll find some regional variation in wild-growing subspecies.
We mostly call these trees juneberries, their common name in the United States, In Canada they’re usually referred to as saskatoon berry, and it seems they’re better known and more used there. My apologies to Canadian readers if you find my use of the word juneberry mildly offensive, but it’s what we’ve called them for years and what comes naturally. I’m going to use the different names interchangeably in this post in hopes of catching more people looking to learn about these wonderful native berry plants!
Why to Grow Juneberries / Saskatoon Berries / Serviceberries
Serviceberry trees — serviceberry being the preferred landscaper nomenclature — have it all: They sport gorgeous flowers in May, delicious berries in June (hence the name juneberries), lovely fall color, plus they provide food for pollinators and birds, who often take more of the purple fruits than we’d like, truth be told. Serviceberry trees are native to much of North America and need little in the way of care, since they’re adapted to local growing conditions.
Juneberries come in both tree and shrub form, and they’re both wonderfully prolific. My daughters and I often just eat all our juneberries off the tree rather than pick them into bowls.
If there are any leftovers, saskatoon berries wind up topping our homemade yogurt and whirred into homemade fruit leathers. We usually grab some growing in public spaces near us to cram as many juneberries into our tummies before their short season ends.
Unlike blueberries, which have a lot in common with juneberries in shape, size and flavor, serviceberry trees and shrubs are easy to grow. We gave up on blueberries long ago, but we continue to enjoy our annual bumper crops of juneberries. These trees are so productive, we rarely manage to get all the berries, and birds and squirrels obligingly clear the higher branches for us.
If you’re looking for a tree to grow near the street, serviceberry trees are also salt-tolerant and won’t get you in trouble with city regulations about what they call “nuisance” fruit, like apples. As cities get more thoughtful about their plant choices, I’ve noticed more juneberry trees used in boulevard plantings, which is great for foragers like me, who want to get more of these delicious berries than we can grow ourselves.
Juneberry trees can handle full sun as well as light shade and don’t create deep shade for other plants, making it a great choice for the permaculture landscape. And as long as you’re planting a tree, why not get the bonus of free, delicious fruit for your family to enjoy?
You can also make the most of trees already growing in your yard. Did you know you can harvest spruce tips in spring and use spruce or pine needles to make spruce tea or pine needle tea all year round?
Juneberry / Saskatoon Berry Flavor and Nutrition
Juneberries are superstars both for taste and their nutrient profile!
They taste something like blueberries, but with a richer flavor than most, and none of the tartness that blueberries sometimes have. Their seeds are larger than those of blueberries, and have an almond-y taste to them.
Since seeds contain protein, juneberries have a bit more protein than many other small fruits. (You can forage edible mulberries if you want another berry high in protein. Wild black raspberries are also on the seedy side, and start ripening as juneberry season winds down.)
Like blueberries, saskatoon berries’ dark purple color comes from anthocyanins, a great antioxidant to add to your diet for its anti-inflammatory powers. Elderberries, another fun fruit to grow or forage, are loaded with them, too. Juneberries also have other health-boosting polyphenols like quercitin, which may help with seasonal allergies.
Saskatoon berry contains manganese, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, copper and carotene, as well as polyphenols, flavonols, and anthocyanins according to this nutritional analysis.
The Saskatoon Institute has more details on nutritional value of sakatoon berry, as well as growing information.
Foraging and Harvesting Saskatoon Berries and Juneberries
Even if you’re not growing your own fruit you might find juneberries to forage in your neighborhood. Here’s a cool interactive urban foraging map that can help you locate fruit that’s free for the taking in your area. Keep zooming in on your neighborhood till you can see little dots that represent trees. You can use the pull-down menu to select the type of fruit you’re after.
Once you know what serviceberry looks like, it’s pretty easy to identify, though there are many different regional varieties. There aren’t too many berries out there that look like blueberries growing on trees. But of course, be sure to use a good field guide to positively identify serviceberry trees before picking. Here are some of the best foraging books I’ve found.
This page has some good photos and details to help you identify serviceberries. If you see little reddish fruits at the end of the summer, you’ve likely found crab apples, which are also edible, though not all taste wonderful. Here’s what to know about uses for crab apples.
Juneberry season is quite short, maybe a week or so before the berries go from ripe to rotten or gone, so get out and grab as many berries as you can once they start turning from red to purple. The flavor is far better in the fully ripe, deep purple juneberries than the reddish ones, but if you’re adding them to recipes a few red ones won’t be a problem.
Birds and squirrels love juneberries, too, so don’t delay picking what’s there or you may not get any!
Ripe juneberries don’t store well, so eat what you want fresh pretty much right away. You can freeze extras for future use.
(Heads-up: My kids complain about the seeds when serviceberries wind up in their smoothies with the blueberries.)
You could also try dehydrating your juneberries, though I never have. I suspect their seeds might make them a little odd to eat dried, and they’d be better blended into any kind of fruit sauce and dried for leather.
I’m not a canner, but if you have a huge crop and limited freezer space, you may want to try canning them, or make some juneberry jam. Here’s an easy honey-sweetened juneberry jam recipe. Might make a nice homemade gift for the holidays.
Growing native plants makes the gardener’s life easier, as plants adapted to local conditions generally don’t require much fuss. And growing perennial fruit in your yard means you have a lovely gift of fruit each season without planting anew every year.
Plant a whole bunch of different fruits in your yard, and every time you go outside, you find another delectable treat. We get rhubarb, then haskap berries, then strawberries, then juneberries, then plums, and eventually apples.
If I had a bigger yard, I’d totally add more types of fruit so we could always be harvesting something, though truth be told we don’t keep up with everything our yard produces as it is. We also enjoy lots of other perennials, including edible weeds like purslane, dandelions, violets, and creeping Charlie, as well as herbs like thyme and lemon balm.
You’ll likely find juneberry trees or shrubs at your local garden center, but if you don’t here’s a source for getting serviceberry trees online.
Juneberries can handle some shade as well as full sun, and will produce better for you with more light. It can handle most soils that are well-drained, and if you’re looking for a street tree, serviceberry also tolerates salt from winter road treatment. Our juneberry trees have been doing well in our clay-ey boulevard for years now.
Juneberry Pests and Diseases
Serviceberry trees may get rusts and other fungal diseases. We haven’t dealt with any ourselves, but we are at war with a particularly vile invasive insect hell-bent on destroying our juneberry crop.
If the evil spotted wing drosophila (SWD) has settled in your area like it has in ours, know that these dreadful bugs think thin-skinned fruit like juneberries are the perfect place to lay their plentiful eggs, despite comments on the interwebs that early fruits like saskaton berries are less likely to host SWD. If you have an infestation, your beautiful juneberries will suddenly turn to mush. Yes, I’m speaking from experience.
SWD is a tough pest to deal with, and the few sources out there emphasize sanitation as your best defense. You want to be as vigilant as possible to gather all fallen fruit and throw it in the trash (not the compost) to reduce the number of SWDs attacking your crop.
I collect fallen juneberries all week and put them in a bag in the freezer till trash day and drop it in the bin just before pick up. Here’s more on dealing with SWD, which can ruin your raspberries and plums as well. They’re horrible creatures!
Related: Get Rid of Fruit Flies with an Easy Homemade Fruit Fly Trap
What to Do with Juneberries or Saskatoon Berries
I’m a huge fan of plain fruit and happily eat our juneberries right off the tree or from a bowl, but if you’re more of a recipe/dessert person, there are some wonderful things you can do with your juneberries.
You can of course bake juneberries into a pie, or use them anywhere you’d use blueberries, from pancakes and muffins to crumbles and ice cream. We often throw juneberries that aren’t perfect for fresh eating into our homemade fruit leather.
Do you grow or forage juneberries or saskatoon berries? What is your preferred name for this delicious fruit?
Pin to save this info on juneberry, saskatoon berry, or serviceberry (or whatever you call it) for later!
Additional juneberry photo credit: Serviceberry tree in flower courtesy of lqlqlqlq75 via Pixabay
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.