Many people say that it’s unsafe to eat red berries in the wild. Are red berries really edible? What kinds of berries should you avoid eating?
About 50% of red berries are edible. Therefore, it’s important to use caution when deciding whether a wild red berry is safe to eat, as some red berries are harmful to humans. Plant identification books can help people discern what red berries are edible and which ones are not.
It is a good idea to consider getting a field manual to keep on you at all times when out foraging. Here is the link to the one found on Amazon that I recommend. It even has a bunch of recipes that incorporate wild plants.
Only some berries in the wild are edible, so let’s dive into what kinds of berries are edible or non-edible and how to identify them.
Red Berries that are Edible
Throughout North America, there are 26 different varieties of Hawthorn berries. These berries are deep burgundy in color, and they grow in clusters. Most Hawthorn berries are very bitter, so they’re usually used to make jams or juices.
These berries are found in higher altitudes and are common in the Northeastern states and Canada. Mountain Ash is bright orange-red in color, and they taste best cooked.
Barberries are found in the eastern part of North America and everywhere in Europe. These berries grow in shrubs in woodlands and in fields. They can be eaten raw or cooked, but the seeds should not be consumed.
This is a very common berry that is mainly found in the eastern part of the US, and they are grown in bushes. These berries are a little sweeter than the others, which makes them more enjoyable uncooked.
Redcurrants are a type of gooseberry found in bushes with clusters of 5 to 10 berries on branches that weigh down toward the ground. They are very tart, so it is recommended that you make them into jam or juice rather than consume them raw.
This plant is found in Eastern Asia, Canada, and the United States. They are found at the center of the top 4-6 leaves of the plant, making them pretty easy to identify. Bunch-berries don’t taste that great though. They contain large seeds and have a very mild flavor.
These berries are native to China and Japan. They are produced on small shrubs that produce these bright, round, and red berries. Like many of these other berries, they taste very tart but refreshing. They are added to pickled vegetables and mushrooms on occasion.
Pin cherries are found in the Northern States and Canada and grow on pin cherry trees. The fruit is a very vibrant red. They contain a large pit which can make them a little more difficult to eat. They are also very tart.
These berries look similar to raspberries, but in addition to red, they can appear orange or yellow. They grow together in small clusters in shrubs. They are most commonly found on the west coast of North America, in the state of Idaho, and in moist forests.
Wild strawberries are smaller than the regular supermarket strawberry, but they are known to taste even better. They are found in moist areas exposed to the sun and grow in shrubs. They are very common throughout North America.
Red Berries that are Not Edible
This berry is very hardy and grows throughout most of the US and Canada in moist environments. They grow in shrubs and look very appealing because of their bright color—but don’t be fooled. They can cause low blood pressure or nausea if ingested.
American holly is very closely related to the winterberry, except they bloom on trees. They are found in moist forests in the US. It’s toxic to humans and even some wild animals. It can potentially cause fatigue, dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Red Berry Mistletoe
These berries are found most commonly in Europe. They appear translucent and are very sticky. Consuming any part of this plant can cause serious illness and even death.
A butcher’s broom shrub produces large, glossy berries that grow in clusters. These large bright red berries are poisonous and can cause digestive problems.
This berry is native to China but can also be found in many parts of North America. They are found in small clusters on bushes and are bright red. If consumed in small amounts it will only cause minor stomach problems. If consumed in large amounts, it will present more serious illness.
Spindles grow on trees and have a very unique shape and are reddish-pink in color. There are four lobes that encase tiny, orange seeds. Although these berries are toxic to humans, they may be edible to many animals.
Lily of the Valley
This plant contains white, pendant flowers. These white flowers then mature into toxic red berries. A small amount of these berries can cause stomach pain, confusion, and reduced heart rate. If consumed in large amounts, it can lead to cardiac arrest.
These berries start out green, then become bright red when ripe in July. This plant is easy to identify because of its dark green leaves. When this plant is consumed, the symptoms are milder than if the other berries were to be consumed. You will experience mild abdominal pain and potential vomiting.
These vine berries look similar to cherry tomatoes. If consumed, one could potentially experience bleeding in the stomach or intestines, vomiting, convulsions, and even death.
These shrub berries look similar to nightshade berries, but they are not quite as poisonous. Poisoning doesn’t happen very often, though, because these berries have a very unpleasant smell which easily turns away humans and animals.
How to Determine if a Red Berry is Edible or Not
Step 1: Examine wild berries closely. Pay close attention to the size and color of the fruit. Make note of its arrangement on the tree branch, bush, or vine, the color of the bushes flowers, and the number of leaves growing beneath the fruit.
Step 2: Use a field guide with photos to identify a particular berry.
Step 3: If you don’t have a field guide, see how many berries grow in one location. If the fruit grows in small clusters, it’s likely poisonous. If the fruit grows as single berries, it is more likely to be edible. You can double-check by identifying the fruit using your field guide or a quick google search.
Always remember, when in doubt—do not eat!
Consult a medical professional or poison control if you think you may have ingested inedible fruit.
Health Benefits of Red Berries
Here are some health benefits of edible red berries:
- Contains plenty of antioxidants. These antioxidants include anthocyanins, ellagic acid, and resveratrol.
- Helps improve blood sugar and insulin response.
- High in fiber. 3.5 ounces of raspberries contain 11.9 grams of carbs, 6.5 of which are fiber.
- Contains nutrients like vitamin C, manganese, vitamin K1, copper, and folate.
- Helps fight inflammation.
- May help lower cholesterol levels. Berries are a very heart-healthy food.
- Good for skin health. Berries can help reduce skin wrinkling.
- Protects your body against cancer. Antioxidants, including anthocyanins, ellagic acid, and resveratrol, can help reduce cancer risk.
- Can be enjoyed in nearly every diet.
- Improves arterial function in all types of people.
Where to Find Edible Red Berries in the Wild
You can find edible red berries anywhere in the world, but berries are most commonly found in the US, Canada, Poland, Germany, Mexico, and France. The kinds of berries you’ll find greatly depend on the environment you’re in. If you are hiking in the forest, you will most likely see elderberries, chokeberries, and raspberries.
If you are out in the open with a lot of sun, then you are most likely to find strawberries, although it’s a little more difficult to find wild strawberries. Most people prefer to go to a strawberry farm to ensure that the strawberry they are picking is good to eat if they have a hard time differentiating the strawberry from other red berries.
You can also find other kinds of berries like barberries and maybe even some raspberries.
If you are hoping to find a more abundant amount of wild berries, it is recommended that you search in moist forests, especially in North America.
Where to Find Unedible Red Berries in the Wild
Unedible berries are usually found in moist forests as well. It’s important that you know the difference between different types of berries if you plan on going berry picking in the wild.
Unedible berries are usually very visually appealing to the eye. Most poisonous berries are also found in North America, Europe, and Asia. Poisonous berries are also able to withstand color temperatures. If it is cold outside and you see a bush of berries, don’t eat it just to be safe!
Where to Purchase Edible Red Berries
We will not mention where you can potentially purchase unedible red berries for various reasons.
Of course, you can simply find the red berries you need at your local supermarket, like Walmart. If you want a fresh option, you can check the local farmer’s market. I find that farmer’s market produce is fresh and tastier than supermarket produce.
If you are in search of strawberries, it might become a fun activity to find a strawberry farm near you. The strawberries you find here will be far better quality than those you’ll find at the local supermarket, and the flavor is typically much better.
Buying fresh berries can sometimes be a little expensive. If you want to buy berries on a budget, you could even consider grabbing them from the freezer section at your grocery store. They can be purchased in bulk for a fraction of the price.
How to Properly Wash Berries
Most of us simply run fresh berries under cold water for a few seconds and call it good. However, there is an ideal way to wash berries to ensure that all of the pesticides and bacteria are stripped away from the fruit.
How to wash raspberries
The flesh of raspberries is very delicate, so it’s important to be extra careful when washing them. Raspberries soak up water very easily. Because of this, make sure to only wash them when you’re about to use them or eat them to prevent excess moisture from growing mold during storage. Place berries in a colander and dip them in a water bath for a minute or two to avoid putting pressure on the berries and tearing the berries’ flesh.
How to wash strawberries
To ensure all of the pesticides and bacteria are washed off the strawberry, it would be a good idea to give your strawberries a saltwater bath. Use a few cups of warm water (depending on how many berries you’re washing). For every cup of warm water, use 1 teaspoon of salt. Place the berries and salt water mixture into a bowl and let sit for a few minutes. Then, strain the water mixture from the strawberries and rinse thoroughly.
How to store washed berries
After washing the berries, pat the fruit dry with paper towels. Store the dried fruit in a sealed container that has been lined with paper towels. Leave the lid slightly open to avoid any moisture build-up. You could even use the original container the berries came in if they are store-bought. Make sure to wash the container and line it with paper towels for optimal freshness.
Different Ways to Use Red Berries
Make sure to wash and dry berries before freezing them. Trim them and then freeze them whole or cut the berries into pieces. Store the berries in freezer bags. Use the frozen berries for smoothies or throw them in drinks or cocktails as flavored ice cubes.
Make homemade jam
You can turn your berries into a delicious jam that will last on your shelf for several months. Instead of canning the jam, you can also simply freeze the jam in small quantities. You can even fold the homemade jam into whipped cream for desserts, an ice cream topper, or even spread it onto cakes or cookies.
This is a more unique way to handle berries, but using this method helps introduce berries to more savory dishes. Pickling adds sourness and changes the character of the berries to be sweet, tart, and savory, all at the same time. This is a great way to preserve berries for a longer period of time.
Make sauces or syrups
Making syrup is a great way to use up a lot of berries and end up with a flavorful condiment that can remain a breakfast staple for a while. Cook the berries down with sugar and then blend. Strain the seeds to achieve that smooth, syrupy texture. This is a delicious addition to your typical pancakes and waffles.
Add to salads
Berries can easily replace tomatoes or other greens in your salads. They can be sprinkled on to add sweetness and acidity, especially when paired with a tasty vinaigrette dressing. Berries alone can also be used as a healthy way to thicken up salad dressings and add a tangy taste.
Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
She has a professional canning business and has been featured in the local newspaper, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is.
With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass.
Lovingly known as “Jelly Grandma” by her grandkids, Anne hopes your visit here has been a sweet one.