Sometimes I forget that the simplest things with which we grew up with might not be that usual to others. Since we have been back to europe for a Asia break, we have been going regularly to the forest for the seasonal berry pickings. My husband was excited at the thought of picking wild blue berries, since he loves berries and because western berries are of course not to be found in India, so when we went to the forest to pick berries, I noticed that it was a completely new territory to him and therefore I decided to write a useful post about how to pick wild blueberries, which will be packed with tips and our local knowledge.
Before we start, just to be clear: Only pick wild berries if you are sure that they are edible! I will be describing and sharing pictures further down that will help you getting around blueberries but if you are not sure if they are blueberries, then don’t pick them because they could be poisonous for the human digestive system. In doubt also research: How to identify poisonous berries or get a field guide.
Blueberries can be commonly found wild in the European alps and the harvesting season is July. I know that countries such as Canada and the US tend to have huge fields full of blueberry bushes which are sold later on in stores. But I haven’t seen those personally so for more information about where to find blueberries wild in this world check out wikipedia or Google a bit around.
Blueberries grow mostly in higher altitude forests. For example our local forests in Tyrol Austria are about 600 m above the sea level. The forests are not too dense and some sun light is necessary to help the blueberries to grow. Common trees include a mixture of needle and leaf trees. I added a picture underneath of the forest where we found a load full of wild blueberries. That should help you to find a great spot. Btw the lower bushes with tiny leafs in the picture are blueberry bushes and they were full of berries.
Another way to find blueberries in the mountain forests is to look out for super green spongy moss. Blueberry bushes need cold climate forest moss to grow. In our local German dialect blueberries are known as moss berries, which is another indication on how and where they grow. See picture underneath.
The blueberry bushes (as seen in the pictures further down) hold usually green colored leafs but we noticed that reddish leafs grow in forest clearings and the berries tend to grow bigger and sweeter at times. The leafs are rather tiny and round, the bush itself is rather scratchy and quite flexible. Blueberries hide behind the leafs so the best way to collect and reveal them is to crouch or kneel and hold up the bush.
What you need to get before you go to collect wild blue berries:
- Containers with a lid such as buckets, Tupperware, etc
- long pants and shirt because blueberry bushes can be scratchy
- black clothes or clothes which can get dirty because blue berry stains are hard to remove
- Some bottled water or anything to quench one’s thirst
- A Blueberry comb (as shown in the picture further down) to collect berries easily.
Also make sure to…
- get a map or compass or something so that you can’t get lost in a new forest environment
- keep a phone around in case of emergencies
- get a friend because it’s more fun to collect blueberries together
- get a rain coat in case the weather changes quickly
- find lots of free time to harvest in peace
Blueberry combs can be commonly bought in the European alps. They are not that expensive and super useful because you can collect 4 times more berries in the same time that you would need to pick by hand. I personally prefer to pick by hand: It’s just an old habit. The blueberry comb doesn’t harm the plant, nor does it smash the berries if used gently as shown in the picture above. Another reason why you should take it easy with the comb is less leafs tend to fall together with the berries. Less leafs means less time wasted picking out leafs when washing the berries. Also as you could see from the first post picture: Blueberries stain fingers immensely and the comb may rescue your beautiful nails.
I just want to add: The advantage of picking blueberries in the central European alps is that the forests are quite save. That means no predators or poisonous creatures. If a fox, badger or deer ever tries to come close to you, it means that something is wrong with it and that’s when you should keep away from the animal. Don’t just touch random mushrooms and berries which you can’t identify, they may be poisonous. Otherwise I can tell you that nothing will ever harm you in the forests in Europe. Insects are limited too compared to tropical forests.
Two people usually take about 1 hour to collect a kg. Now, that’s an average and again it depends if you found a good spot with lots of blue berries and if you use a comb too. My grandmother would take a few hours with her skilled hands and she would come back with a dozen of kgs! I know it can be a back breaking experience but it’s worthwhile if you value fresh and organic forest berries. My husband calls a blueberry bush clearing a paradise on earth, so it does make sense to collect your own if you consider the quality of blueberries and value in supermarkets. Also, blueberries in the European alps can be usually eaten directly from the bush. Therefore, I prefer to collect blue berries after a good summer shower but again blueberries in the forests are anyway untreated and dust is rather rare in a forest environment.
Anyhow, before you use your handpicked blueberries in a cake or tart, I suggest that you wash them in cold water with a few drops of white vinegar. The vinegar gets rid of any small insects. Then you can just use them directly or place them into the fridge for up to 1-2 days max until you use them. You can also freeze them by placing a batch each in zip lock bags. We prefer them fresh and soon I will be sharing a few recipes here before the Blueberry season comes to an end.
Have you ever picked wild blueberries before? Do you have any tips which you would like to add in a comment?
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