Salmonberries are one of the watchdogs of spring. When you are looking for signs of awakening these bright flowers stand out boldly – they bloom before the canes are covered with leaves.
They are common in the lower Fraser valley and the fruits are among the first to ripen in early summer. The canes and fruits are very similar to those of the raspberry, and they were called raspberries in parts of Alaska. Both raspberry and salmonberry are part of the rose family.
The ripe fruits are orange or even yellow, and to my taste are quite sour and seedy. I’m told they make good jam, either alone or with huckleberries. The name salmonberry comes from either the fact that the fruit cluster resembles salmon roe or because the berries ripen at the same time as the first salmon run of the summer. How native people must have looked forward to those first salmon and those first fresh berries of the year. (Also the salmonberries were a good medicine for those who over-ate the first salmon.)
The first green shoots were eaten by native people in early spring and a tea made from the leaves in summer. Berries that were not eaten right away were dried for later use. Robins love to eat the berries too. They disappear into the leaves and all you can see is the bushes shaking as they pull the berries off and swallow them.
Salmonberries grow at the forest edges or in clearings beside streams and rivers. Native families had clear rules throughout generations about just which families had the rights to pick salmonberries (and other berries) in a certain area. Berries were very much part of a healthy coastal diet.