Manzanita is a common name used for many species of flowering plants in the genus Arctostaphylos. They are evergreen shrubs or small trees with attractive bark and urn-shaped flowers. Manzanitas are native to western North America, ranging from British Columbia to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Some of the most common species used for landscaping include greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula), bigberry manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca), and bearberry manzanita (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). Manzanitas thrive in hot, dry climates and can survive both heat and cold. They grow best in acidic, well-drained soils.
Manzanitas produce small berries that resemble tiny apples, hence their common name. The berries can be red, purple, blue or almost black depending on the species. They ripen from summer to early fall. The berries have an apple-like flavor and can be eaten raw off the bush, though some species may be too dry or mealy.
Are Manzanita Berries Edible?
Yes, most species of manzanita berries are edible. The berries can be consumed straight off the bush and provide a sweet, apple-like flavor. However, some people may find the raw berries too dry or bland for regular snacking.
Greenleaf manzanita and bigberry manzanita are considered among the best-tasting species raw. Their berries are juicier and sweeter compared to other varieties. Bearberry manzanita berries tend to be dry and almost tasteless.
The berries are safe to eat when ripe and can provide some nutrition benefits. They contain antioxidants, vitamin C, and small amounts of carbohydrates and fiber. However, the berries should only be eaten in moderation as they may cause minor digestive upset if consumed in excess.
Unripe or underripe manzanita berries can have an unpleasant flavor and may contain higher concentrations of toxins. The berries are best harvested when fully ripe and soft to the touch. Overripe berries may have fermented and taste sour or unpleasant.
How to Harvest and Eat Manzanita Berries
Manzanita berries can be harvested by hand from mid to late summer into fall when they are ripe. Look for berries that are fully colored, plump, and easily detach from the stem. Avoid under-ripe green berries or shriveled overripe ones. Gently twist the berries off their stems.
Rinse freshly picked manzanita berries gently under water and pat dry. The berries have small seeds that can be eaten along with the flesh. But you may want to avoid berries with a lot of hard seeds.
Manzanita berries make a refreshing snack eaten raw straight off the bush. They have a sweet-tart wild berry flavor. Just be aware that the raw berries are not very juicy or fleshy. Some tips for eating manzanita berries:
– Eat manzanita berries soon after picking. The berries don’t store well and quickly lose moisture.
– Sample raw berries first to test for flavor. Discard any batches that seem too dry, tough or bland.
– For juicier berries, look for Himalayan blackberry, woolly Indian currant or creeping barberry manzanita varieties.
– Enjoy manzanita berries in moderation. About 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup portions are recommended as berries may cause stomach upset in excess.
In addition to eating them raw, manzanita berries work well in recipes. Since they are small, they can be tedious to pick in large quantities. But they add great flavor as an ingredient. Try them in the following ways:
– Make manzanita jam or jelly using pectin or gelatin to help thicken up the juice.
– Use manzanita berries in muffins, scones, pancakes or cakes for a wild berry flavor.
– Simmer manzanita berries gently into a sauce or coulis to serve over ice cream, pudding or cheesecake.
– Dehydrate or infuse manzanita berries into syrups, vinegars, cocktails, lemonade and other beverages.
– Puree berries into smoothies along with other fruits and yogurt or milk. The small seeds are okay to ingest blended.
With their sweet-tart flavor, manzanita berries make a nice addition to recipes when used selectively in small amounts. Just adjust sugar and moisture to balance out the dryness of raw berries in cooked items.
Potential Risks of Eating Manzanita Berries
While manzanita berries are considered non-toxic and safe to eat for most people, there are some potential risks to keep in mind:
Allergies – Some individuals may be allergic to manzanita and experience an upset stomach, rash, or anaphylaxis. Try just a few raw berries first before eating large portions.
Digestive issues – Overeating manzanita berries may cause nausea, cramps, or diarrhea. Limit portions and introduce slowly to your diet.
Unripe berries – Unripe green manzanita berries contain higher concentrations of potentially toxic chemicals. Only eat ripe, fully colored berries.
Spoiled berries – Old, damaged or moldy berries can harbor bacteria and cause foodborne illness. Harvest fresh ripe berries and refrigerate promptly in a single layer.
Seeds – Manzanita seeds are edible but some people find them irritating. Avoid varieties with hard, large seeds.
Pesticides – Forage manzanita away from roadsides, golf courses, and pollutants. Wash all berries thoroughly before eating.
Diuretic effect – Manzanita may have a mild diuretic effect and increase urination. Limit intake if you have kidney problems.
Medication interactions – Speak with your doctor if you take lithium, diuretics, or blood pressure medications as manzanita may interact.
Environmental pollution – Some environments may cause manzanita to uptake heavy metals or other contaminants. Know your foraging location.
By starting with small portions of ripe berries, most people can safely enjoy manzanita berries with minimal risk. But it’s still a good idea to positively identify the species first and be familiar with potential side effects. When in doubt, consult an experienced foraging guide or reference book.
How to Identify Manzanita Species
There are at least 60 species of manzanita shrubs. To identify if unknown shrubs in the landscape are manzanita, look for these defining features:
– Shiny red, chestnut, green, or brown bark that peels away in thin sheets on more mature stems and trunks
– Small leathery oval or heart-shaped green leaves. The leaves feel thick or waxy to the touch.
– Clusters of small bell or urn-shaped flowers that are usually white to pink and bloom in spring.
– Small round berries about the size of a blueberry or crabapple. Green when unripe but mature to red, purple, blue, or black.
Some of the most common edible species include:
Greenleaf manzanita – Bright green leaves with a pleasant herbal smell when crushed. Smooth red bark on older growth. Produces light pink urn flowers and dark burgundy berries.
Bigberry manzanita – Blue-green oval leaves and buff-colored bark that turns red and smooths with age. Pink urn flowers and large blue berries over 1⁄2 inch wide.
Bearberry manzanita – Smaller shrub with small oval leaves. Reddish bark and white to light pink urn flowers. Berries are red to nearly black.
Himalayan blackberry manzanita – Upright shrub with sticky, hairy stems and dark green serrated leaves. Whitish flowers and black berries.
Kinnikinnick – Low trailing shrub with oval leaves and red stems. Pink flowers and bright red berries.
When identifying manzanita, look at the leaves, bark, flowers, and berries together. Compare to edible species and cultivated ornamental manzanitas. Avoid types with milky sap or berries attached to a thimble-like receptacle. Manzanita shrubs are widespread in dry forests, parks, and chaparral ecosystems of the western US and Canada. Positive plant identification is recommended before harvesting berries.
When and Where to Harvest Manzanita
Manzanita shrubs produce edible berries from mid summer through early fall depending on the species and growing region. The berries ripen at slightly different times, so regular monitoring from July to September will help determine ideal harvesting times.
Look for berries that are fully colored, soft, and detach easily from the stem. They should not feel hard or shriveled. Use pruning shears or scissors for easier picking vs plucking off each berry. Harvest early in the day after the morning dew dries for best flavor.
Manzanita shrubs grow abundantly in the wild across valleys, foothills, and mountain landscapes. Look for them along sunny hiking trails, dry slopes, scrublands, open forests and parks. Harvest sustainably from robust shrubs and spread out picking over multiple plants.
Cultivated varieties can also be foraged from managed landscapes, gardens, and nurseries when permitted. Always properly identify shrubs and acquire permission before foraging manzanita berries from private property. The plants usually produce small berries, so harvesting requires some time and effort. But properly identified bushes can provide a pleasantly flavored edible wild berry.
How to Store Fresh Manzanita Berries
Fresh manzanita berries are highly perishable and do not store well after picking. Berries left sitting at room temperature quickly shrivel, mold, and ferment. For best quality and food safety, follow these guidelines for handling freshly foraged manzanita berries:
– Gently rinse berries in cool water soon after harvesting and drain well. Do not soak berries or they will get waterlogged.
– Sort through berries and discard any damaged, underripe, or moldy ones. Damaged berries decay rapidly.
– Place berries in a single layer on paper towels or a cloth and pat very dry. Excess moisture speeds spoilage.
– Transfer to an airtight container or zipper bag lined with dry paper towels. Press out excess air and seal.
– Refrigerate berries right away at 32-35°F (0-2°C). Do not let berries sit unrefrigerated more than 2 hours.
– Use berries within 1-3 days for best flavor, texture, and food safety. The berries lose moisture quickly even when refrigerated.
– For longer storage up to 1 week, gently rinse berries in mild vinegar water. Pat dry, spread in a single layer on a sheet pan, and freeze solid. Transfer frozen berries to a zipper bag.
– Frozen manzanita berries are best used for cooking, baking, or making jam vs eating raw. Texture and moisture suffer when frozen.
With prompt post-harvest handling, manzanita berries can keep for a short time in the refrigerator. Enjoy them as soon as possible for maximum fresh eating quality and flavor.
Manzanita refers to a group of shrubs native to the western US and Canada that produce small, apple-flavored berries. Most species have edible berries that can be eaten straight off the bush when ripe. The berries provide antioxidants, vitamin C, and mild sweetness.
While safe for most people, manzanita berries should be consumed in moderation. Eating too much may cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Try small portions first and stick to around 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 per sitting until you know how well they are tolerated.
For best results, harvest fully ripe, soft berries when they detach easily from the stems. Handle the perishable berries gently and refrigerate promptly in a single layer. Plan to enjoy them within a few days as they quickly lose quality. Incorporate manzanita berries into recipes for jams, desserts, and beverages to take advantage of their fresh sweet-tart wild berry flavor. With the right harvesting and handling methods, manzanita berries offer an edible and flavorful foraging find.