PAT NEAL: Salmon berry season

Salmon berry season marks the beginning of the berry picker’s year.

It’s a time nearly all the wild creatures wait for — when we go out in the woods and stuff ourselves with free food packed with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants too numerous to mention.

If you don’t know what salmon berries are, you’re probably not from around here.

The salmon berry bush is a thorny, deciduous, woody shrub somehow related to roses that can grow 10 feet or more in height in swampy ground from the west slopes of the Cascade mountains to the ocean.

They are called salmon berries for a variety of reasons. The blossom of the salmon berry blooms in the spring, marking the beginning of the upstream migration of the spring chinook, the first salmon of the year.

As the berries ripen, they start out looking like miniature globs of salmon eggs that are pale orange like the meat of the humpy or pink salmon.

Later in the season, the berries turn crimson like the flesh of the sockeye or king salmon, getting sweeter with each passing day.

Or not. The flavor of the salmon berry can vary with each berry.

Some are tart. Others are not, so you have to eat a lot of them to get a flavor that is just right.

This is not a problem this year.

We are having a bumper crop of salmon berries that legends say can predict the run of salmon up the rivers.

We can only hope the salmon run as thick as the salmon berries.

Preserving salmon berries is a problem.

Native Americans considered the salmon berry too soft to dry. They are too delicate to freeze for very long.

Some people have canned salmon berries, but that involves a lot of sugar and a lot of work. Which is a bother since there will soon be so many other berries to pick between now and the final frost of fall.

I know I will get into a pile of trouble for mentioning this, but it is also time to start picking blackberries.

By blackberries, we don’t mean the mushy, seedy, invasive blackberries that grow in vacant lots and along roadsides, no.

We are talking about the little wild ones.

They grow far from the beaten path, in secret patches no berry picker would reveal.

Picking blackberries is a lot like hunting other wild things.

First you must find them.

Blackberries used to grow well in clearcuts, until the timber industry started spraying them with herbicides to kill anything that might compete with the king cotton of the Northwest, the Douglas fir.

Where you find blackberries is anyone’s guess, but once you do, you must pick the berries before the bears do.

The bears have every advantage when it comes to picking berries.

Bears do not have to drive long miles to the berry patch.

They live there.

Bears are not picky about the berries being perfectly ripe and black like we are.

They will eat every berry in the patch, whether it is ripe or not.

Picking blackberries involves a risk of stumbling on the many hornet and yellow jacket nests that are just now approaching the size of a cantaloupe.

It’s uncanny how often the greatest concentration of blackberries can be located on top of a hornet nest.

The bears don’t mind hornets at all. In fact, they’ll eat the nest to get the grubs inside along with the berries.

Picking a gallon of blackberries is a major life goal.

It will all be worthwhile when the ice cream is melting over the pie.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via