by Steve Skinner, Aspen Daily News Columnist


Friday, August 4, 2017



These days I’m into a mix of local trails. Call it a trail mix. Someone has to get out there and mix it up with the bushes, grasses and moose. Why not me?


The best part about the local woods at this time of year is that there are edibles everywhere. While a lot of the state is looking for edibles in marijuana dispensaries, some of us have been finding them along the trails.


Causes and conditions of weather, soil, luck and sunshine have conspired to provide us with a bumper crop of serviceberries this season. This purple bush fruit has been slowing down my walks as I pause to peruse, pick and plant plump berries onto my willing taste buds.


Sweet. Juicy.


The serviceberries are the star of the show. There are enough of the plentiful, purple juice sacks along the trail to share with humans and bears or I wouldn’t be writing about them. I’d keep a silly gooseberry secret.


There are tons of fruits on the vine, and we can’t possibly eat them all.


Gooseberry health benefits? Of course.


According to reliable internet sources gooseberries are low in calories. A 100-gram bowl of berries adds only 44 calories to your body, which you will burn off picking the darkest and best berries … always found on the highest branches of the shrub, just out of reach. The caloric intake of that bowl of berries represents just 2.7 percent of a human’s recommended daily donuts allowance.


That same 100 grams of nectar include 46 percent of our recommended daily intake of vitamin C. Most would agree that this is much better than getting C from a tart, chewable vitamin disc, prepared in a factory using chemically synthesized vitamin powder. (They do taste good, though, yes?)


Serviceberries are moderately packed with scientific stuff like flavones and anthocyanins, compounds which help with the little stuff like inflammation, neurological disease, cancer and getting old. They are pretty good antioxidants as well.


It’s easy to put them down. You can miss the tall bushes right along the trail but don’t walk past the serviceberries. Bring a baggie and pack some out. If you are going to make them into a pie, some say you should pick the green fruits. Some recipes call for skinning the little devils but that hardly seems necessary — it’s all delish. Experiment!


Warning: There are poisonous berries out on the trail, too. Please don’t blame me if you mistake Death Camas for gooseberry. By the same token I cannot be held responsible for people downing a handful of delicious-looking but poisonous red honeysuckle berries instead of mild and juicy gooseberries. You have to know what to look for!


Alongside the serviceberries on the trail today you will find a few currants (related to gooseberries) and some little tiny raspberries and strawberries that are packed with more flavor than a Jolly Rancher. Many of these nectar pods are growing close to the ground. The true hunter will sometimes bend down low to spy the micro-strawberries hiding shyly in the shade of the foliage. They may appear too small to pick, but there’s more natural flavor in one of these than you will find in a whole plastic container full of massive, wooden strawberries grown on factory farms. Once you go natural you won’t want to go back.


Another low-hanging fruit you can forage for now is the too-good-to-be-true thimbleberry. Unless people are sure of what they are getting, they may avoid the thimbleberry. In all honesty the plant and fruit looks so good that it must be poisonous. Maybe this fear explains why there are so many of them within arm’s reach on many local trails.


Thimbleberries look kind of like raspberries, but they stand up on tall vine bushes that have no thorns. The juicy fruits are fragile and often fall apart on red-stained fingers. They don’t travel well so it’s best to eat them on the trail.


According to thimbleberries are beneficial to digestion. According to folk medicine, baby thimbleberry shoots can be dried and used to help stop diarrhea (although nothing works for that better than Immodium A-D).


These occasional rains we are getting now makes it almost certain that berry season will linger on. Some stuff is just getting going. Putting a little trail mix into your daily diet may have health benefits beyond just walking. Watch for bears and berries, and enjoy happy picking, pecking, perusing and popping!


Steve Skinner hopes to see you out there having a berry good time. Reach him at


Published in the Aspen Daily News July 25, 2017

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