The beginning of fall is always a bittersweet time. While the growing season is coming to a close, it’s a great time to enjoy harvest and prepare for the winter. It’s also an excellent time to plant berries and other woody perennials! The cooler weather and precipitation is great for establishing roots, and by the time spring rolls around, your berries will be off to a great head start, meaning more tasty treats next season.
Beyond deliciousness alone, berries are a source of incredible health benefits. These health benefits extend far beyond our own bodies. It’s a bold statement, but we’ll go out on a limb - berries can effect change on the scale of lifetimes and ecosystems. Let’s explore some of the ways that backyard berries can benefit you, your family, and the world around you.
Berries. Are. Delicious. No surprise here, but it bears repeating. Is there any better summertime treat than a bowl of fresh, perfectly ripened, still-warm-from-the-sun berries?! Even ICECREAM is going to have a hard time competing with that. Berries ON icecream? Game over.
Eating together has become more complicated than ever before. With the huge variety of modern food sensitivities and diets, it can be a challenge to please everyone in the family, let alone a large group. Berries are fair game for just about everyone, unless you are on a low-fibre diet or carnivore diet, and unless you are Inuit, this should probably raise alarm bells. Berries are high in fibre and compared with other fruits, are very low in carbohydrates. They have even been shown to improve blood sugar and insulin response, making them a great choice for people trying to limit their sugar intake. Ketogenic, paleo, low-carb, vegetarian, vegan - berries are fair game on all these diets to varying degrees.
3. Berries Are Backyard Superfoods
The term superfood is often overused, and its definition is varied, superfoods are generally considered to be foods that are very high in nutrient density or that have dramatically positive health benefits. No superfood list is complete without a variety of berries - goji berries, açai berries, blueberries, strawberries, elderberries, and cranberries are just a few of the most commonly mentioned. Seabuckthorn berries are growing in awareness, and this berry is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, containing over 190 bioactive compounds. Among these compounds are a huge range of antioxidants, vitamins (12x the Vitamen C of an orange), protein, and healthy fats, including all 4 omega fatty acids (Omega 3, 6, 7 & 9), which is extremely rare for a fruit. (Patil & Chaudhar, 2016). While it may be the most nutrient dense food we can grow in northern latitudes, seabuckthorn is just one of the many lesser known superfood berries you could plant in your own backyard. We will discuss a few more of these berries below.
4. Protection & Longevity
Yes, berries can protect you. Not QUITE like a professional body guard, but in many ways, even better. Ever tried to run through a blackberry thicket? Didn’t think so. Neither do deer, or much of anything larger than a rabbit. Blackberry, gooseberry, seabuckthorn, and blackberry are a few species that can form a thorny hedge that provides a nearly impenetrable living fence if desired. You’d need an army of bodyguards to form a wall as effective, and most bodyguards won’t protect you from cancer either. And unlike berries, which are loaded with anti-oxidants (known for their anti-aging effects), you’re not going to find many bodyguards that can protect you from cancer or the ravages of time. Whether protecting you from free-radical damage, inflammation, cholesterol, heart disease or food security risks, berries can offer you and your landscape protection that is hard to beat. (Cooke, Gescher, Marczylo, 2005) In regards to longevity, a healthy berry plant can live for decades, and in the case of a mulberry tree, can last for hundreds of years. With their incredible health benefits, berries may even extend the length and quality of your own life.
With more healthy days on this planet, how many more special moments could you share with your family? What knowledge and wisdom could be shared during these days? What effect would these precious days have on our communities? Big questions, yes, and if you don’t wanna go that deep, it’s all good! Just enjoy those delicious bundles of yum, and know that they’ve got your back.
5. Easy Care
As far as growing food goes, it’s hard to beat berries for the easy maintenance and care. When most people think about growing food, annual vegetables like peas, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes come to mind, which need to be seeded every season. Most berries on the other hand are perennial, meaning they only need to be planted once, and grow back every year. Berries require little more than a seasonal prune and a bit of mulch and fertilizer, and you will be blessed with a low-maintenance harvest every season. Berry shrubs are also a great choice for elders, as they do not require crouching in the dirt, or climbing on a ladder to maintain. They are also a great choice for landlords and anyone who travels frequently, as most berries that aren’t aren’t picked just shrivel up on the branch, and do not leave a mess that needs to be cleaned up.
6. Easy Enjoyment
It’s REAL easy to enjoy berries - just pop them in your mouth! Berries can be enjoyed fresh with not even so much as a bowl. They are a versatile food that can easily be added to baking, salads, drinks and desserts without needing to consult a recipe, though there are countless surprising ways to enjoy them if recipes are used. Check out the link 20 Unconventional Recipes Using Strawberries for inspiration. If you want to save the harvest for later, berries are one of the easiest to foods to preserve. Lay them out on a cookie sheet to freeze, pop them in a dehydrator, or if you’re feeling ambitious, make up a batch of jam or jelly to enjoy throughout the year.
7. Woo-ing the Wildlife
While some may complain that their harvest has “gone to the birds”, many other people try desperately to attract birds and bees to create a nature sanctuary at home, by putting out bird baths and feeders. Others are waking up to ornamental landscape plants as means to attract wildlife. If you’re going to feed the birds, why not feed yourself too?!
Berries are formed when their flowers are pollinated, and while they are blooming, their flowers are sure to attract a buzz of activity from beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies. After the blooms, and once the fruit has formed, humans and wildlife alike can enjoy the harvest. Pro-Tip: If you want to keep more of the harvest for yourself, consider planting pale berries like white currants, white mulberries, and golden strawberries and raspberries - the birds won’t realize they are ripe!
Beauty is more than skin-deep - but let’s not forget about the skin! As discussed, berries are full of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect against free-radical damage in cells, which is one of the leading causes of skin damage. One of the antioxidants present in berries is ellagic acid, and studies have shown that ellagic acid may prevent wrinkles by blocking the production of enzymes that break down collagen in skin that is damaged by the sun. (Aiyer, Vadhanam, Stoyanova, 2008) Seabuckthorn is renowned in skin care, due to its high nutrient density and fatty acids, and is an increasingly common ingredient in health care products such as facial creams and sunscreen.
Beyond the skin, berries can be used to create dyes for fabric and clothing, as well as add tremendous aesthetic value to our landscapes. Whether you’re taking in the sweet smell of Clove Currant blossoms in spring, the fluorescent orange glow of Seabuckthorn berries in the summer, or the stunning foliage of a Blueberry in the fall, this beauty is not some trivial matter. Far from being a shallow delight, beauty has the capacity to heal and call forth the very best in us.
“Beauty arrests us because it points to something beyond the every day. Beauty arrests because it hits at a realm of the sacred. Beauty arrests because it awakens the religious impulse inside of us. Beauty can shake us out of our jadedness. There can be no cynicism in response to being overwhelmed by the beatific.. and so, surround yourself with beauty… curate your environment.” - Jason Silva in How Beauty Can Heal Us (Video)
9. Community, Ecosystems & Regeneration
We’ve discussed how berries can help us to regenerate our bodies, but their power is not limited to ourselves alone. Berry picking, whether at home, on a farm, or in the wild, can be a powerful way to build community connections and trust, through socializing and sharing. These yearly harvesting rituals harken a time when humans were much more deeply connected, both to our fellow humans and nature. Just as our communities have slowly eroded the generations, so too have our soils, and both cry out for our care. Fortunately, berries can be a delicious part of the solution.
There is a special group nitrogen-fixing berry species, that they take nitrogen from the air, and fix it into the soil with the help of bacteria in their root nodules. This nitrogen acts as a fertilizer for the soil. Nitrogen fixing species are known as pioneer species, as they are the first species to establish themselves in a damaged ecosystem, creating fertility for the next generation of plants to develop. Examples of n-fixing berry species are Seabuckthorn, Autumn Olive, and Goumi Berry just to name a few.
Each of these species comes with a host of health benefits that are available to both plants and animals. Some of these plants (especially Seabuckthorn and Autumn Olive), have the capacity to spread, so it is important to understand their growth habits and where it is appropriate to plant them. Nonetheless, plants like these can be a formidable tool in the fight against desertification and erosion, and offer an incredible opportunity to regenerate our communities, landscapes, and ecosystems.
Whether we look at our own cells or entire ecosystems, berries are a deliciously divine gift. There are countless reasons to plant them, and no better time to plant them in the fall.
If you’d like help choosing the perfect selection of berries for your own backyard, pleas reach out - we’d love to help.
We offer consultation and design services throughout the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver Island, and Western Canada, as well as offer phone consultations for those further abroad.
If you’re interested in chatting more about ways we can help, please reach out!
If you’d like some more information, or you’re interested in free resources to get started at home, check out our website:
Aiyer, Harini S., Vadhanam, Manicka V., & Stoyanova, Radka. (2008). Dietary Berries and Ellagic Acid Prevent Oxidative DNA Damage and Modulate Expression of DNA Repair Genes. Int J Mol Sci, 9(3), 327–341. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2635667/
Cooke D, Steward WP, Gescher AJ, Marczylo T. (2005) Anthocyans from fruits and vegetables--does bright colour signal cancer chemopreventive activity? Eur J Cancer, Sep;41(13):1931-40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16084717
Kosten, Bethany. (2014, May 12) 20 Unconventional recipes using strawberries [Blog Post] Retrieved from https://www.brit.co/strawberry-recipes/
Patil, Shiloh G., Chaudhary, Anand K. (2016) Unexplored therapeutic treasure of Himalayan sea buckthorn berry: An opportunity for rejuvenation applications in Ayurveda. International Journal of Green Pharmacy, 10 (4) https://greenpharmacy.info/index.php/ijgp/article/download/778/567
Silva, Jason [Jason Silva: Shots of Awe] (2018, Apr 20) How Beauty Can Heal Us [video file] Retrieved from https://youtu.be/2W6wJniitTU
Spritzler, Franziska (2019, April 24) 11 reasons why berries are among the healthiest foods on earth. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-reasons-to-eat-berries