It's a hot July day and the saskatoon berries are ripe and we have been filling our bowls, and hearts with these 'purple drops of summer'. I continue to make our Saskatoon Lemon Pie soap, one of our regular line up which is frequently restocked. As well as grind the sasktoons to a fine powder for a vitamin boost in our "Black Charcoal Face Mask."
Saskatoon berries were an important part of the diet of our indigenous peoples and early homesteaders on the prairies. They continue to fill our bellies today and inspire me.
NOTE: This article was written & published for the magazine TrailblazHer for summer of 2021 by myself and edited by my best friend Liz Martin.
Growing up on the prairies meant hot July summers out picking ripe saskatoons with my Mom, siblings & Grandma near the farm. It seemed to take forever to fill my pail with the plump, juicy berries. Many went to my mouth instead of the bucket around my waist. With purple-stained fingers, a full tummy, mosquito bites and sun-kissed cheeks, we would head back to Grandma’s small kitchen, wash up the berries, and start boiling them to make a family favourite pie.
The people of the prairies have long been familiar with saskatoon berries (or just simply saskatoons, and also known as serviceberries). In the summers local u-pick gardens abound in rural areas, but if you know the land you can find saskatoon bushes growing wild -- some even hiding in plain sight in urban settings. I relish the weeks in July when my husband and I take our kids to pick from wild bushes abundant with saskatoons. Our ancestors would have done the same in these wild patches, perhaps just as excited to taste these purple drops of summer.
My Grandma taught me about saskatoons and all the wild berries of the prairies: the wild strawberries, first to emerge in the summer, so tiny and sweet; and the wild raspberries, gooseberries, chokecherries and high bush cranberries that would burst out later. She taught me how to forage, how to appreciate a bumper crop, and the variety of ways to use and preserve the berries to enjoy them beyond the summer. My grandmother would jar jams, jellies, syrups, and chutneys, stocking her cellar to last through the long winters. My mom now teaches me and passes on the recipes for these family favourites.
Saskatoons have become a hobby plant for me. Recently, I started getting creative and finding other ways to use saskatoons in our life. The berry is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that helps reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Saskatoon berries provide high amounts of usable energy, protein, carbohydrates, fibre, Vitamin C, iron, and potassium.
Nutritious for our body, saskatoons also feed our skin. I make bar soaps and skin care products, so naturally I sought out ways to incorporate this berry into my formulations. I imagine my great grandma nodding in approval at this idea and saying, “Of course!” My line of products now includes Saskatoon Lemon Pie soap and a Black Charcoal Face Mask featuring a powder made from the berries. I wonder what my great granddaughter someday could be doing with the wild saskatoon berries from the bushes on our farm -- will she continue the tradition of harvesting the berry to nourish herself and her family? What gratitude I feel for these plants and their power to connect my family across generations!
Foraging sweet prairie berries was once a necessity, a way of life for people indigenous to the Prairies and a responsibility of the settler homemakers in my family. One local elderly lady, who is now 102, recently told me she ate canned saskatoons so often in the winter as a child that she would groan when her mother popped open another jar. She added she does enjoy them again now in the summer.
It’s hard for me to imagine the dire need to forage and grow enough during the summer to feed us all year. With so much abundance in the grocery stores, it’s easy to forget the food we have available growing steps from our door. Yet these native plants are also at risk of disappearing with cultivation and commercialized development.
"I feel a strong desire to teach our children the importance of the gifts on the land and how to foster a sustainable future while caring for our environment." - Jessica Mose
I continue the practice of foraging and preserving the berries, but I do so for the treat -- not the necessity -- of making my grandma’s recipes for my family. My challenge now is finding the wild bushes that produce enough berries to make a few pies, fill my children’s bellies, and fuel my hobby-turned-business of wildcrafting prairie plants into soaps and skincare products for a modern self-care approach for women.
Knowing my ancestors were picking the same saskatoon bushes under the same hot sun helps me remember who I am and where I come from. I will continue drawing inspiration from this prairie plant. Whether I’m preserving it for future treats or innovating my products with its powerful properties, the saskatoon is keeping me connected to my roots.