Whatever you want to call them, if you like apples and blueberries, then you’re going to love the flavor of these!
What is a Saskatoon berry?
Slightly smaller than a blueberry and purple in color, saskatoons grow on a deciduous shrub native to the Northwest U.S. and Canada, and can be found as far north as Alaska. Originally eaten by the aboriginal tribes, today it’s a superfood highly sought after for use in recipes like pies and jam, or just to eat raw.
Juneberry vs. blueberry?
Here’s how their size and appearance compares…
Overlooking Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, this big naughty bowl of maple granola was loaded up with fresh local blueberries and saskatoons (picked ourselves). On the spoon you only see blueberries, but if you look to the right side of the bowl, you can see the purplish june – they’re roughly half the size.
The fact that it’s hard to find for sale and has a short growing season only adds to its mystique.
When is saskatoon berry season? If the spring is exceptionally warm, it can start in late June. More typically, the harvesting begins during the first or second week of July. After that, you only have 3-4 weeks to enjoy the fresh berries before they’re all gone for the year.
Want them outside of season? You have options, more on those in a minute.
A taste unlike any other berry
Even though it looks like a blueberry, it’s not related. The saskatoon tree or “shrub” can grow up to 23 feet tall (7 meters). Its height is more comparable to an apple tree versus a berry bush. That’s because it’s actually a pome fruit, just like apples and pears are. (1) (2)
What does a saskatoon berry taste like?
An apple and blueberry combined, with a hint of nuttiness. Some describe the flavor as cherry and almond. As with many apples, the saskatoon is only moderately sweet, which is why some don’t like the taste. But if you’re not expecting the sugar explosion of a raspberry or mulberry, this nuttiness will be a pleasure for your palate.
Multiple names with controversy to boot
Saskatchewan is one of the ten Canadian provinces. Nestled along a river bearing the same name is its largest city; Saskatoon.
Yep, this town of 200,000 is what the berry is named after. But that doesn’t bode well for American farmers wanting to cash in on the trend.
After two years of consumer studies, researchers at the Cornell Cooperative Extension concluded that juneberry was the name which resonated better with U.S. consumers. In turn, they have been pushing for branding as such. From 2012 and onward, all of their initiatives have made use of this moniker. (3)
Of course, the Canadians feel like this is a sleight. Like we’re taking away their namesake to make it more ‘merican.
But wait, there’s more.
Are huckleberries the same as saskatoons? Many confuse the two, but they’re different things. However, the saskatoon/juneberry does have several legit synonyms; Pacific serviceberry, western serviceberry, chuckley pear, dwarf shadbush, alder-leaf shadbush, and pigeon berry.
And before they were in vogue, some said they were the “poor man’s blueberry.”
This is why it’s best to seek the scientific name, Amelanchier alnifolia, when researching it.
Health benefits of saskatoon berries
- Among the highest antioxidant fruits
- More vitamin C than blueberries
- 85 calories per serving
- 70% of daily value for manganese
- 67% for biotin
- 12% for iron
- Moderate amounts of calcium and potassium
- Preliminary antiviral effects observed in research
- Leaf extract lowers blood sugar in rodent studies
*Nutritional facts based on serving size of 100g (3.5 oz) of the raw, fresh fruit. (4)
If you search PubMed for this plant, you will find zero human clinical trials or studies. When it comes to other medical literature, there are fewer than fifty pieces published. Given its newfound popularity, that will eventually change, but for now here’s what we do know…
Do saskatoon berries have antioxidants? Of course they do, but is the amount the same, better, or worse than other more common berries?
Using the best method to date, ORAC testing, here’s how their antioxidant content compares.
|Type (all raw)||ORAC Value (per 100g)|
|Goji (fresh, not dried)||3,290|
|Juneberries / saskatoons / serviceberries||15,000|
Yes that’s right, the berry saskatoon has 220% more antioxidants than blueberries when comparing equal weights of each. They’re an anti-aging and anti-inflammatory powerhouse!
Off topic, another shocker to many people is where goji berries rank. Their red pigment provides carotenoids, but overall, their antioxidant content is relatively low.
They’re not the same thing as a medication and should not be used as such, but the best natural antibiotics, as they are called, typically involve herbs and spices. Seeing significant antiviral activity from a fruit is rare.
Back in the 90’s, botanists at the University of British Columbia screened 100 different plants from their region for antiviral activity. They tested them against 7 different viruses:
- bovine coronavirus (BCV)
- bovine herpes virus type 1 (BHVl)
- bovine parainfluenza virus type 3 (BP13)
- bovine rotavirus (BRV)
- bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV)
- vaccinia virus (VACV)
- vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV)
To be clear, that first one is not the same as the COVID-19 coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a broad category of viruses affecting both animals and humans.
Most of the above are bovine – meaning they infect cattle – but they are similar to human forms of herpes, influenza, and rotavirus. These viruses were grown in the lab using cultured cow and African green monkey cells.
Out of the 100 plants tested, only 12 demonstrated antiviral activity at non-toxic dosages.
They don’t mention if the berries were among those 100 plants, but the juneberry root was and landed among the 12 best.
Why did they test the roots? Because in Canada, uses for saskatoon berries as food is only way the native Americans used them. Additionally, the aerial portions – roots and leaves – were used in traditional medicine for respiratory infections, such as colds, coughs, and the flu. Reportedly, decoctions made from their parts were also used for diarrhea, smallpox, and “as a general tonic, reportedly good for any type of sickness.” (5) (6)
You can read more about this Native American remedy and others in Thompson Ethnobotany: Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia
Going back to the lab study, they found that the Amelanchier alnifolia root extract “completely inhibited” the damaging effects of the enteric coronavirus in the lab study. Though it didn’t appear to have antiviral effects against herpes, influenza, or the others which were tested. (7)
To reiterate, this plant has not been studied for COVID-19. It should not be used to prevent, treat, or cure any viral infection.
In 2013, Pakistani researchers found that two flavonoids in the fruit, quercitin 3-galactoside and 3- glucoside, showed good binding activity (an antiviral effect) against the human hepatitis C virus when it was tested in the lab. (8)
Might one of the benefits of juneberry be better glycemic control?
At Auburn University in Alabama, scientists conducted an experiment using obese mice and what effect this plant had on them. They did this because historically, the Blackfeet Indian tribe reportedly used saskatoons for diabetes in at least some form. Tea made with the leaves and twigs was one herbal remedy.
This was the first time ever these claims were given scientific scrutiny.
Extracts made from the leaves, twigs, and berries were tested on the mice. It was found that the leaf extract is what demonstrated anti-diabetic effects.
There was “significant inhibition” of intestinal a-glucosidase activity, which in turn delayed the absorption of carbohydrates. This led to lower blood sugar after eating. They compared the mechanism of action to that of the anti-diabetic drug, Acarbose. (9)
Keep in mind this is just one study using fat mice. Humans haven’t been evaluated. The same wasn’t seen with the fruit, which of course is the part people eat.
Something very similar with much more research on it – including human studies – is the beneficial glycemic response observed with the leaf extract of mulberry fruit.
Juneberries for sale
Finding where to buy saskatoons or juneberries is a huge challenge. In Canada you will have better luck, since the crop size there is exponentially larger and it’s already a well-known and in-demand food. In the United States, the following will be your best bets for where to find them.
During late June and July, see if you can find a juneberry u-pick farm in your area. There are a couple directories online like upickfarmlocator.com, but a search for juneberries on there only yielded one result!
There are definitely more than that, but finding them will require homework.
Try doing a Google search for the name of your state with the word upick or you pick. Do this twice, using saskatoons and juneberries, since what they’re called differs by farm.
Your best luck for finding a u-pick farm will be in the lower peninsula of Michigan, upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota.
In the Detroit area (South Lyon) there is Erwin Orchards, but there are a number in the northern part of the state.
Just west of Traverse City, Michigan is one of the state’s largest growers, Jacob’s Farm. We took a trip there to see this place for ourselves.
This was on June 29th, the first day the Saskatoon Berry Institute of North America announced them being ripe for picking in the area. Jacob’s Farm hadn’t advertised them as being ready yet, but another farm about one hour east along Torch Lake did. Too lazy to drive all the way there, we drove here instead.
If you’ve never done this before, here’s how a u-pick farm works:
- Borrow one of their buckets or pales
- Pick the berries yourself and fill the bucket
- At “checkout” you transfer the berries to their cardboard containers – pints or quarts
- You pay the marked price per pint or quart, typically by putting the cash into a drop box.
There were three long rows of juneberry trees, but Jacob’s preferred to call them by their Canadian name!
If we waited another week, it would have been a lot easier. At this time, only 15-20% of the fruit is ripe, so it’s more time intensive process to sort through and pick them.
That one dark purple berry you see in this clump is ripe. The pink berries still have a week to go.
Prepare to get your hands dirty in the process!
That’s not the worst part, though. It’s how long it takes to pick these little guys. Since the size of a saskatoon is only around 1/3″ in diameter, it takes a lot of them to fill up a quart.
After nearly 40 minutes of two people picking fervently, this was the reward to reap… just two quarts which is hardly impressive. At peak season in mid-July, you could probably do this at twice the speed.
Their price was $3/pint and $5/quart, which meant this bounty costs $10.
Where can I buy juneberries? Not at the grocery store. Or at least, we have never came across them at a Whole Foods, Sprouts, or even natural co-op market.
But we did see that at a farmers market during a prior trip to Northern Michigan.
Along the picturesque M-22 highway in the town of Glen Arbor, we stumbled upon these at a farmers market during the last week of July. They were actually overripe, as evidenced by their dark color and shriveling, but they were delicious nonetheless. The sellers of these were the same as the u-pick; Jacob’s Farm.
It’s by no means likely, but it’s at least possible you might find these at farmers markets in Washington, Oregon, and northern California, in addition to the areas we already mentioned for you-pick farms.
Finding them at a farmers market is even more of a wild-goose chase, since not many vendors at those places promote themselves online.
There are over 8,600 markets registered in the USDA Farmers Market Directory. We have only been able to find proof of them being sold at a couple dozen!
That’s not to say you can’t find them at 25 or 50 other markets, but whatever the number, it’s likely only 1% at most. In short, do some Googling before driving all over the place.
Frozen saskatoon berries
Even if you live in an area where they’re available fresh, that season is only a max of one month per year. For the other eleven, buying them frozen will be the only way to enjoy them raw and unprocessed.
As shown above, during summer months we have seen the frozen juneberries for sale at farmers markets. Though never at a grocery store of any kind. In Canada you will find them, but not here.
Where to buy frozen saskatoon berries?
- Earth Delights in Okemos, MI (855.328.8732)
- Northwest Wild Foods in Burlington, WA (866.945.3232)
Both of these companies sell them and ship using dry ice. Last we checked, the former charges $28.50 for a 3 quart tub, while the latter has 3 lb bags for $40.
Earth Delights is the better bargain, since 3 quarts would weigh at least 4 lbs (probably 5). But you have to factor in the cost of express one or two-day shipping and the Styrofoam cooler which goes along with that… not cheap!
NW Wild Foods does provide free S&H if you spend $125. But really that means $160, since it takes 4 of those bags to cross the $125 threshold. Too expensive for a daily indulgence, but for research of other hard-to-find berries, we have ordered from them a couple times.
With both them and us on the west coast, as Superfoodly is based in Los Angeles, you would think their shipping to us would be more reliable versus a rural market. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been our experience.
The very first order placed with them was sent to a different state altogether. They did re-send, but the weeks delay really screwed up schedules. Obviously you want to make sure you’re present for when that package arrives.
A year later, an order was sent 3-day ground (versus the 2-day advertised) and in turn, what we received was slightly thawed. The berries were edible and safe to eat, but not sent using the method listed at time of order.
These were purchased for our review of sea buckthorn benefits.
We hear that freezing fresh saskatoons hold up well, in a manner similar to blueberries. Though we’ve never bought them, as they were never in-stock when we placed our orders.
What to do with frozen saskatoons? Almost everything you can do with the freshly picked. They will be too messy to eat by hand like popcorn, though thawing them in the fridge overnight will give you a good oatmeal or cereal topper at breakfast.
Oh and in case you’re curious, the frozen will likely have higher antioxidant content than fresh which have sat around for a couple days. That hypothesis is based on this test comparing fresh vs. frozen blueberries.
Berry jams and pie syrups
Given their extremely short growing season, it’s no surprise that the most popular uses for them in Canada are for canning, baking, and other culinary creations.
You can buy jams, compotes, sauces, salad dressing, and even juneberry wine.
Of course, ordering alcohol online with shipping across state lines isn’t always feasible, so homemade saskatoon wine recipes may be your only option depending on where you live.
The jams and jellies you can buy easily online. Aside from obvious uses like toast and bagels, incorporating them into scones, tarts, cookies, pies, and other baked goods is easy to do. Wild saskatoon jelly is something you can buy on Amazon no matter where you live. For making pies and dressing, try the syrup as a flavor booster.
Plant a tree
Last and least, we come to a solution for those who have a lot of patience.
Sure, you may find saskatoon berry plants for sale in Ontario at a nursery, but they’re not exactly something you’re going to find at a Home Depot in Dayton, Ohio.
Being extremely hardy (zone 2), the juneberry growing conditions work well for northern states, including Alaska.
Most of the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and East Coast are good saskatoon berry growing zones. The hotter states to the south and west are not.
Aside from being a food source, they’re also quite beautiful with their big white blooms in the spring, as well as their red and gold foliage in the fall.
Most soil types can work, but they do best in fertile black dirt with medium moisture content. Regions where it’s too dry don’t work well and neither does sand or constantly soggy soil. In drier and hotter areas, a layer of mulch can help keep the moisture in.
Here are some nurseries which sell the live trees. Most only offer seedlings or those which are 2-3 feet in height.
- Saskatoon Michigan Farm & Nursery in Williamsburg, MI (231.360.0311)
- Honeyberry USA in Bagley, MN (218.331.8070)
- Nature Hills in Omaha, NE (888.864.7663)
- Forestfarm in Williams, OR (541.846.7269
- Edible Landscaping in Afton, VA (434.361.9134)
Live in the UK? Then try Frank P. Matthews Ltd (01584 812800). If you’re in Australia, try Daleys Fruit. They only communicate by email, not phone ([email protected]).
Since most places are only selling small seedlings and it’s going to take a while until they produce fruit, maybe you just want to start with seeds. Those are certainly a lot easier to find and ship than a seedling!
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.