The Benefits of Mindful Berry Picking

By Technical Writer Uinita Mauigoa

Gathering berries, an important part of Alaska Native cultures for centuries, is still a tradition that thrives today.

The season is ripe for one of Alaska’s sweetest traditions: berry picking.

When harvesting berries, knowledge, care, and wisdom can lead to a bounty of benefits. Berries are deeply woven into the fabric of Alaska Native cultures. Knowledge and wisdom span thousands of years. Southcentral Foundation traditional culture specialists have delved into their plant knowledge to share tips on how to pick berries mindfully:

  • Be respectful: Harvest in an area you have permission to access. Take what is needed and avoid clearing the area of all the berries.
  • Be safe: Keep 50-100 feet away from roads or trails to avoid harmful toxins and debris.
  • Be cautious: Be aware of look-alikes. For example, mountain ash berries can be mistaken for baneberries, which are highly poisonous. The difference to look for is mountain ash berries droop in clusters, whereas baneberries stick up straight with berries on top of the stem.
  • Be moderate: As always, everything in moderation. Ingesting just the right amount of berries could yield health and wellness. However, large amounts for extended periods of time increase blood sugar and the possibility of health complications such as kidney stones and digestive issues.
  • Be smart: Do your research. There are a plethora of berries that grow wild in Alaska, each with its own benefits, precautions, and uses. Berries also have various Indigenous, common, and botanical names.
  • Be careful: Avoid yanking on the stem, which could uproot or damage the plant. A great technique is to hold the stem firmly while you gently pluck the berry off.
  • Be thankful: Ponder upon your appreciation for the berries you have harvested.

The health benefits of berries are plentiful. For example, many berries such as highbush cranberries and lowbush blueberries are high in antioxidants, which help control cholesterol levels and regulate blood pressure, a benefit to heart health and chronic illnesses. However, there are also berries that are poisonous, and some can be fatal. Knowledge can ensure you reap a range of health benefits from berries while avoiding potential harm.

Historically, the gathering, sharing, and trading of berries connected families, communities, and regions of Alaska. Traditionally, red berries, such as cranberries, were used to dye baskets and regalia. Various Alaska Native cultures used certain berries for wellness and healing. Many of these cultural uses are still present. Families and communities gathering to pick berries is a tradition that is still alive today. Mindful harvesting ensures this integral tradition continues to thrive and live on.