Identifying Edible Red Berries in the Wilderness

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    Hunger can strike at the most inopportune time, such as when you have nothing readily available to eat. In a perfect world, a stash of food will be present at all times, but that is not always the way the cookie crumbles. There could come a time when you are trekking through wilderness, possibly lost and off course, with the food items you brought along already consumed. Then, when your stomach again requests food, you may have to turn to the world around you for something to eat. In such a case, nature will provide, but you still need to be aware of what is a trick versus what is a treat.

    Red berries grow plentifully in the natural world and are often easy to find. While these may be appealing in a state of intense hunger, not all of them are edible. Grabbing a handful of red berries off of the nearest shrub is actually quite a gamble. Even if you see birds or other animals consuming them, that does not make those berries a safe bet for you. Instead of falling victim to a toxic berry in a moment of intense hunger, learn ahead of time which berries are friends and which are foes.

    Foliage with sharp spines growing in glistening leaves is known as Holly. Let these spines serve as all the deterrent you need as the red berries that grow on this plant are toxic to humans despite the fact that you may see birds eating them. Further identification of these berries includes yellow pulp and a single, large seed.

    Photo: Green Spot Brandon

    Growing beneath taller trees in shady areas is a group of understory trees known as Dogwood. The toxic berries found on dogwood also have yellow pulp as well as an easily seen black spot at the end of the otherwise red berry. The yellow pulp inside can vary to include differing numbers of seeds based on the type of Dogwood with some having a single seed and others having multiple seeds; all seeds will be light in color, however.


    The red berries of the forest are not all bad news, however, and there are a few edible varieties, the first of which is Autumn Olive, a large bush that grows up to 30 feet in height with leaves that are glossy on the underside. The berries will be red but bear spots in different shades of red and brown. Inside of these berries you will find red pulp and a seed similar to that of a lemon which can be consumed as well.

    Photo: Wildman Steve Brill

    Next on the list of edibles are Rosehips which grow on bushes with thorns and compound leaves. Best for consumption when ripe and deep red in color, these berries bear a gray spot and have sticky, red pulp. Inside you will find light colored seeds that can be eaten as well.

    Photo: Outdoor Lab

    Another thorn bush with berries is Barberry although the thorn arrangement varies by species. The berries on this plant are bright and shiny with red pulp and dark colored seeds. If you can overcome the bitter taste, these berries are safe to eat in moderation. Seeds can be consumed along with the berry.

    Photo: Vital Signs ME

    Ideally you will always have access to food in your travels but things can go wrong and that may not always be the case. When wilderness hunger starts to become a problem for you, red berries can come to your aid. Just be sure your identification skills are up to snuff so you don't get a toxic surprise.

    Have you sampled any of the edible berries listed above? Which is your preferred variety or which do you tend to avoid? Let us know in the comments.

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