Whether you call these yummy purple fruits saskatoon berry, juneberry, serviceberry, shadbush, or something else entirely, when you taste them, 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?
This awesome berry deserves wider attention — full of rich summer flavor and healthy nutrients, juneberry is 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 or Juneberry?
I learned about what we here in central Minnesota call juneberry 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 juneberry, their common name in the U.S. In Canada they’re 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!
Serviceberry trees — serviceberry being the preferred landscaper nomenclature — have it all: They sport gorgeous flowers in May, delicious berries in June (hence the name juneberry), 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.
Juneberry comes 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 juneberry. 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 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 can handle full sun as well as light shade and doesn’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?
Juneberry 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 mulberries if you want another berry high in protein.)
Like blueberries, saskatoon berry’s dark purple color comes from anthocyanins, a great antioxidant to add to your diet for its anti-inflammatory powers. 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 Berry and Juneberry
Even if you’re not growing your own fruit you might find saskatoon berry 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. This page has some good photos and details of serviceberry.
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 berries 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 these berries, 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 making plenty of 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 honeyberries, 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 and herbs like thyme and lemon balm.
Here’s a good rundown of your options in choosing a serviceberry tree or shrub appropriate for your planting zone, soil conditions and light requirements.
Serviceberry 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. Ours have been doing well in our clay-ey boulevard for years now.
Serviceberry 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 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 juneberry 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
Juneberry Recipes (Or Saskatoon Berry Recipes for you northern readers!)
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 or saskatoon berries or whatever you prefer to call them.
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.
Here are some saskatoon berry recipes if you find yourself awash in them this season!
Saskatoon Berry Crumble (The DIY Mommy)
Saskatoon Berry Spelt and Honey Scones (Sweet Sugar Bean)
No Bake Saskatoon Berry Cheesecake (Shifting Roots)
Impossible Saskatoon Berry Pie (The Kitchen Magpie)
Serviceberry Coconut Ice Cream (The Planted Runner)
Saskatoon Berry Oatmeal Cookies (Food Meanderings)
Have you foraged juneberry or saskatoon berry? 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 photo credit: Serviceberry tree in flower courtesy of lqlqlqlq75 via Pixabay