Picking wild berries


By Catherine Haug, May 9, 2017 (Photo, right, by D. Morgan, used with permission)

Hey, all you huckleberry pickers out there (or those who pick other native berries such as serviceberries/June berries/saskatoons, choke cherries, etc.), this is for you. Of course, all those who have picked for their own use for years probably already know this, but those who pick for profit or are new to our area:

Don’t be greedy! Leave some berries on the bush for the bears and birds, so they can spread the seeds throughout the area to ensure the berries are there for future generations. You might think everyone knows this, but think again.

Consider the schisandra (schizandra) berry that grows in the wilds of China. These berries are ancient medicine; the name schisandra means “five flavors” because each berry has a mix of the five flavors essential to ancient Chinese medicine (from Learning Herbs (1,2):

  • Sweet — Sweet herbs, such as chai, an herb used to make a popular tea, help restore energy and balance your immune system
  • Salty — High in minerals, an example of a salty herb is nettle, used to nourish, even as it exerts diuretic effects
  • Sour — A perfect model for the sour taste, lemon water is prized for its ability to promote digestion and build strength and stamina
  • Bitter — As herbs, “bitters” are used to stimulate digestion, treat inflammation and exert an oddly cooling, draining effect on your body, akin to drinking coffee
  • Pungent — This taste is savory and spicy; cayenne is a good example

Mercola writes about what happened in the Upper Yangtze, with schisandra berries. (2) This story parallels what happened on the Loess Plateau, also in China. NOTE: the bold emphasis in this story is mine.

‘Once upon a time there was a forest …’ a story might begin. Not so long ago, a sad ending for the schisandra vine looked imminent. In China, portions of farmland are allotted to families. In the Upper Yangtze, farmers began pooling their resources to grow crops on the mountain slopes to sell for extra cash. As forests were logged out to make way for more farmlands, mudslides began decimating the mountains and forests, destroying many of the rare medicinal plants.

—Eventually, the 1990s brought government bans on the hillside timber harvest, then on the farm operation on the mountain slopes in an initiative they called “Grain for Green,” but it backfired. The problem escalated rather than being resolved, according to FERN:

“It was salvation for the forests, but the farmers had to scramble to replace the lost income. Families started gathering more wild plants than ever, ripping entire schisandra vines from trees to get as many berries as possible. This not only killed the plants, but also spread the foragers’ human scent, scaring panda mothers who then abandoned their babies.”13

It looked like the end of the story for the schisandra berry, and a new period of trouble for the villagers, until Josef Brinckmann, an ethnobotanist and research fellow in medicinal plants at Traditional Medicinals tea company, arrived in 2008. His remedy for the situation was to encourage wild harvest, not prohibit it.

…Rather than tearing out every schisandra berry vine they could find, Brinckmann and fellow researchers explained to villagers how imperative it was for future yields to harvest only the bottom two-thirds of the vines so that birds and other wildlife could continue “seeding” the mountain forests.

At the same time, collectors also learned that giant panda breeding areas should be avoided. After a 17 percent rise in the panda population, experts cheerfully reported their effort “seems to be working,” as the beloved animal’s status moved upward from “endangered” to “threatened.”

Indigenous groups around the world are still being trained under FairWild in sustainable harvesting techniques. As contractors, they’re now able to sell their products for what they’re worth. Further, villagers are compensated for protecting the land — and as keepers of the local, botanical expertise, that’s often as ancient as their native cultures.

Some of the contractors are elderly, as well as women and children who would struggle to survive otherwise, and they take responsibility for many rare plants that around 80 percent of the world relies on for food and medicine.

The schisandra berry project alone is now a cooperative between 23 villages, involving buyer contracts that give families a 30 percent profit above market rate. Additionally, when one wants to add new plants to the FairWild list, they’re responsible for designing not only a plan to manage its harvest, but also the entire microecosystem in which it grows.”


  1. Learning Herbs on Five Flavors: learningherbs.com/remedies-recipes/herbal-cough-syrup-recipe
  2. Mercola: articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/05/08/schisandra-berry.aspx

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