photo credit: Sara Jewell photography
Have you tasted Haskaps/honeyberries yet? They are sometimes described as tasting like a blueberry/raspberry/concord grape/green apple. Some have spicier, "herbier" undertones. We like to joke that they taste like...honeyberries! The flavour improves the longer the berry is allowed to ripen on the bush prior to picking. They taste incredible picked right off the bush, freeze well, and can be used in jam, syrup, baking, ice-cream, specialty drinks... If you have ever wanted to know more about these "honeyberries", here's a bit of a summary:
The edible fruit of the blue-berried honeysuckle 'Lonicera caerulea', also commonly referred to as Haskap (the Japanese word for the fruit) is related to the hardy native honeysuckle plant found in cool temperate northern climates. An intensely flavourful fruit, honeyberries have incredible health benefits. They are extremely high in antioxidants and vitamin C. More details found here. We have a couple of native Honeysuckle varieties in Alberta, but the bitter tasting fruit can't compete with the flavour and usefulness of the cultivated varieties.
Perfect Prairie Fruit for our Climate
For growers and gardeners, honeyberry plants are extremely well suited to the prairies; they tolerate harsh cold winter temperatures (definitely hardy to zone 2) and the blossoms can handle the dreaded spring frosts. Honeyberry plants do best with even soil moisture, not too wet, not dry, good drainage, full sun, preferably with mulch to suppress grass and weed competition. The branches are soft/prickle free and the bushes grow to about 6-7 feet (1.5-2 meters) tall. One of the earliest fruits to harvest, they are ready to pick late June/early July, before most other fruit and produce is ready. If you like to eat seasonally, honeyberries are a great early local fruit source.
When it comes to pests, flocks of birds (beautiful but annoying Cedar Wax Wings) can be the worst threat, eating the berries even before they ripen. Netting can help, but it can be a challenge to cover a whole field. Stink bugs or harlequin beetles have been noticed in and around the bushes without too much apparent damage. Other than that, so far, honeyberries are a relatively easy fruit to grow naturally without sprays or chemicals. Last year, high winds knocked significant amounts ripe berries off the bushes - something to consider if you plan on growing them.
Where to Find them!
Recently some farms have started intensively farming honeyberries for u-pick and commercial production on the prairies. Harvesting the fruit at its best is key to enjoying the full flavour. Visiting a U-pick is one of the ways you can get the fruit at its prime; it is a soft berry that is easily compressed/crushed and does not store very well once picked so fruit should be used/processed/frozen as quickly as possible to prevent spoiling.
One of the forerunners in educating locals and developing the Haskap/honeyberry market in the Edmonton area has been Andrew Rosychuk of Rosy Farms (Alcomdale AB- 45 minutes north/ west of Edmonton, or 30 km south of Westlock, 1 km off highway 44). Information and how to sign-up to pick at his farm can be found here! If you want to know anything about Haskaps, Andrew is an excellent resource.
We at Boreal Harvest Farm are open for U-pick by appointment right now as well (located 20 minutes east of Edmonton). Please email via the website to book a time! You can read more about Boreal Harvest Farm in this previous blogpost here.
Again, if you've never tried honeyberries/Haskaps, you need to very soon (they are ripe right now!) and then contribute your opinion as to what you think they taste like! If you have tried them, any favourite recipes you want to share? What do you think they taste like?
***If you don't get a chance to visit one of these u-picks this summer but want to be notified for next year, sign up for the farm's email list so you can plan ahead.