Nevitt seems aghast when I ask why anyone would bother foraging for berries in a state that cultivates such amazing ones. "Buying berries at a farm stand is great, but it’s not an event," he says. "Picking berries is one of the most fun things you can do. You eat more than you take home, plus [you get] all the benefits of being in the forest and exercise on a wonderful outing."
He rhapsodizes about huckleberry pancakes and his mom's wild berry fruit leather, likening it to salal berry cakes, an indigenous staple. Coastal Salish communities dried and pressed the slightly hairy, sticky fruit (which looks like an elongated blueberry and grows in thickets all over the coast) into energy bars. As the trail grows more rugged, climbing to a crest with views of the Pacific, I wish I had one.
Of course, some of Oregon's wild berries can be found without hiking. Blackberry vines form thorny thickets just about anywhere there’s ample sun. Across the western part of the state, foragers meet on back roads, in fields and alleys, along streams, and behind abandoned houses to pick bucketfuls. Locals say summer hasn't begun until the first blackberry bush draws blood! The most aggressive species, the Himalayan, produces an abundance of plump, winey berries by August each year, often continuing until the rains come.
Berry Picking Tips
Check the rules and limits where you're foraging. Sustainable harvest guidelines call for picking only a small amount from each plant and no more than 10 percent of a patch.
Get an early start, and don't go alone. Berries are freshest in the morning and attract fewer bugs at the start of the season. Bring a map or GPS device and a pal to avoid getting lost.
Wear a hat, long sleeves, and long pants. They'll protect your skin from sun, brambles, and insects. Disposable gloves keep hands free of juice stains.
Be bear aware. Coastal black bears enjoy berries too. Avoid trails with fresh bear scat or other signs of their presence. Talk, sing, or jingle bells to make your presence known.
Skip areas sprayed with herbicides, such as rural roadsides. Look for telltale dead plants or grass near the brambles, which Oregon classifies as invasive weeds.
Tap local experts for advice. Call a park or forest ranger for up-to-date insights on the best picking spots the week you plan to forage.