Pollinators and honey berries

This research from Lublin, Poland affirms the common knowledge about honey berries. They need insect pollination, and fruit size is related to the number of seeds per fruit. They are pollinated by honey bees, solitary bees and bumble bees. Flowers that were bagged and isolated showed less than 25% fruit set, whereas flowers exposed to insect pollinators had more than 88% fruit set. Interesting that honey bees don’t really enter the picture in Alaska because bloom time is so early, temperatures are still relatively cool, and honey bees are still shivering in their hives. Bumble bees, by far, are the most important pollinator in Alaska.

Bozek, M. 2012. The effect of pollinating insects on fruiting of two cultivars. Journal of Apicultural Science. 56(2):5-11.

S u m m a r y: In 2004 and 2006-2008, a study was conducted on the effect of pollinating insects on the fruit, seed set, and development of two cultivars of blue honeysuckle Lonicera caerulea (Sevast.) Pojark.: Atut andDuet”. The experiment was carried out in south-eastern Poland, at the Experimental Farm of the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland. Flowers accessible to pollinating insects throughout the whole fl owering period, set fruit at a very high percentage. The study average was 90.57% for “Duet” and 88.08% for “Atut”. During self-pollination under isolation, on the other hand, the percentage of fruit-bearing fl owers was low. In the case of “Atut” the average was 9.37%, whereas for “Duet” it was 23.85%. Multiple fruits formed from isolated fl owers had a 45-50% lower weight, on average, than those developed from fl owers accessible to pollinating insects. The pollination mode was found to have a signifi cant effect on the number of seeds produced in the multiple fruit. Flowers which were isolated to prevent insect foraging did develop multiple fruits, characterized by a signifi cantly lower number of seeds. The recent studies confi rm that several cultivars should be planted on honeysuckle acreage. The presence of managed pollinators can increase quantity and improve quality of fruit yield in honeysuckle.

Spawning salmon increase fruit production of salmonberries

Researchers from Simon Fraser University Burnaby, BC studied the effects of spawning salmon species on fruiting of salmonberries, Rubus spectabilis. No surprise to anyone who has used fish guts, fish eggs and carcasses as fertilizer, the remnants of spawning salmon dragged or floated up on the banks of streams, adds a big fertilizer boost to salmonberries. These researchers studied 14 salmon streams and found that all that organic waste product promoted fruiting, and the density of chum salmon was correlated with increased fruit production. Pinks didn’t measure up. Seed count, fruit weight and sugar content were not correlated with salmon density. I’ll bet those traits are more related to bumble bee and other pollinator activity. Conclusion? Fish fertilizer makes great fertilizer!

 SIEMENS, L.D., A.M. DENNERT, D. S. OBRIST, J. D. REYNOLDS. Spawning salmon density influences fruit production ofsalmonberry (Rubus spectabilis). Ecosphere 11(11):e03282. 10.1002/ecs2.3282

 Abstract. Annual spawning migrations by Pacific salmon can provide substantial subsidies to nutrientlimited

Annual spawning migrations by Pacific salmon can provide substantial subsidies to nutrient-limited freshwater and riparian ecosystems, which can affect the abundance, diversity, and physical characteristics of plant and animal species in these habitats. Here, we provide the first investigation of how salmon subsidies affect reproductive output in plants, focusing on a common riparian shrub, salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis). We studied 14 streams with a range of spawning salmon densities on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada. We determined the effects of chum (Oncorhynchus keta), pink (O. gorbuscha), and total salmon spawning density on the number of fruits per shrub, number of seeds per fruit, fruit weight, and estimated sugar content (° Brix) of salmonberry fruits. We found that the number of fruits per salmonberry shrub increased with increasing salmon density. However, we found no effect of salmon density on the number of seeds per fruit, fruit weight, or sugar content. The effect of salmon density was species-dependent; the number of fruits per shrub increased with chum salmon density but was not affected by pink salmon density. This could be because chum salmon occur at higher densities and are transferred from water to land at higher rates than pink salmon in our study area. Higher salmonberry fruit production could lead to a larger input of salmonberry fruits to coastal food webs. These results demonstrate how salmon can cross ecological boundaries and influence reproductive output of terrestrial species.

Picking and product development of crowberry (Empetrum hermaphroditum Hagerup and E. nigrum L)

 Gunnlaug Røthe(1), Terje Vasskog(2), Inger Martinussen(1)1and Kåre Rapp(1)  (1) Norwegian Crop Research Institute, Holt Research Centre, Box 6232, N-9292 Tromsø, (2) Norway2Institute of Pharmacy, University of Tromsø, N-9000 Tromsø, Norway

I like this study because it addresses antioxidant activities of crowberries, but also a question all berry pickers have– do I hand harvest or use one of those berry pickers? The researchers harvested productive and not-so-productive plots in open and forested areas in northern Norway. They harvested berries for 6 years which is pretty amazing in this era of publish-as-soon-as-you-have-a-smidgen-of-data even after one season. Good scientists know that it takes at least 3 years of data to get any reliable data on field plots.  The string pickers they mention are the small plastic harvesters with metal times that are so common in berry picking areas in Alaska.

Screen Shot 2020-03-23 at 2.06.55 PM copy  Screen Shot 2020-03-23 at 2.07.20 PM copy

They found that hand harvesting beat out berry pickers in nearly every year. The researchers, however, did not report on how long it took to harvest these plots with the two methods. For commercial harvest, that might be important. However, look at the yields in each year. 1995 was an extremely good year, but then yields plummeted in 1997, a phenomenon that is common to wild harvested berries. A rollercoaster of yields can be expected.

Another possible reason not to use pickers is uneven ripening. At any one time, there are overripe, full ripe and unripe berries on the plants. The authors showed that the highest levels of antioxidants occurred at full ripe. On either side of that, the levels of antioxidants decreased significantly. For instance levels of phenols in fruit were 364 mg/100 g unripe, 423 mg/100g ripe and 272.3 mg.100 g overripe. No doubt,  the berry pickers will ensure greater numbers of berries in the unripe and overripe categories.

 The authors also found that the amounts of antioxidants are dramatically reduced during the processing -from raw material to product (juice, jelly, wine). The flavonoids quercetin, for instance showed 268.4 and 798.0 ug/g in unprocessed berries and skins, respectively. Levels in processed products ranged from 1.7  to 25.6 ug/g, a huge drop.





NMR Metabolomics of foods – investigating the influence of origin on sea buckthorn berries, Brassica oil seeds and honey

2016. PhD Thesis Maaria Kortesniemi. Food Chemistry and Food Development Department of Biochemistry. Turku Finland. Sea buckthorn

One of the great attributes of PhD theses, if done well, is the extensive review of published literature. Sometimes theses can be challenging to read, but this thesis is an exception. Dr. Kortesniemi has a great discussion of factors affecting the metabolome (the set of compounds present as products of metabolic events). The chart below shows  the factors that could impact the quality of what we eat.

Food quality

The genotype provides the framework for determining the metabolome, but many factors combine to impact what we eat. For instance, “northern latitude in Finland lowered the content of carotene in carrot and parsley and intensified the colours in strawberry, tomato, [beets], spinach and lettuce. Also, carrot, beets, [rutabaga] and strawberries exhibited higher content of sugar and dry matter in the north (67–69° N) compared to south (60° N)” Scientists trying to define a distinct species or cultivar chemical identity have a giant challenge to reconcile all these components. This particular research on sea buckthorn  found a big interaction between genetics and climatic factors. Northern growing environments produced more vitamin C. High altitudes (>200m) correlated with greater levels of malic and ascorbic acid. It is interesting to speculate on the quality of food that eventually ends up on our plates. Even with growing conditions that produce high quality phytochemicals and vitamins, think about how small changes in harvesting, fertilizers, processing, etc. could significantly impact our food quality.



Insect pollinators of haskap ( Lonicera caerulea L.: Caprifoliaceae) in subarctic Canada

Open Agriculture. 2019; 4: 676-683.  by Maria C.-Y. Leung*, Jessica R.K. Forrest

Everyone who has ever grown haskaps (honeyberries) knows that they attract bumble bees. In Fairbanks, they bloom so early, and air temperatures can be cool, that honeybees can be insufficient for good berry production. Researchers Maria Leung and Jessica Forrest showed that bumble bees rule the day. The authors also reported that commercial berry production Yukon doubled from 2011 and 2016, and the most prevalent berry crop is haskap.

Haskaps are self incompatible and require two compatible cultivars for pollination. and they attract a variety of insects including bee flies, syrphid flies, honeybees, butterflies and bumblebees. The researchers counted and identified insect visitors in commercial fields between 11 am and 5 pm on cool, sunny days near Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Bumble bee visitors ranged from 96% to 32% of all insect visitors. Despite the flower architecture which is trumpet shaped and would hint at butterflies, they were the least common insect visitors. Native insect are very important to pollination in the North. The authors contrasted their results with Saskatchewan where honey bees outnumbered bumble bees as insect visitors on hasps. Anyone who gardens in the North should promote nesting sites for native bumble bees.

Abstract: Recently, the Yukon has seen a large growth in agricultural activity. Crops of commercial interest for local consumption and the export market include domestic berries, especially haskap (Lonicera caerulea L.). However, information on the pollination of these crops in our northern climate is lacking. To begin addressing this knowledge gap, we characterized foraging habits of on-farm bees in southwest Yukon by: 1) identifying pollen collected by bees occupying solitary bee houses; and 2) identifying and counting insect visitors to haskap flowers. Results show that cavity-nesting bees collect a wide variety of pollen including pollen from haskap, and that bumble bees (Bombus spp.) were much more common on haskap flowers than domestic honey bees (Apis mellifera L.), other bee species, syrphid flies, and butterflies. The number of bumble bees per haskap flower was also higher than reported elsewhere in Canada. The ability of bumble bees to be active in cool temperatures and the proximity of the study farms to natural ecosystems likely explain the prevalence of bumble bees in this study. In Yukon, it is still possible to support insect pollinators by maintaining natural areas among agricultural lands. Such undeveloped lands are, at present, typical of agricultural landscapes in subarctic Canada.

Simultaneous determination of flavonols and phenolic acids by HPLCCoulArray in berries common in the Nordic diet

Ensieh Hajazimi (a), Rikard Landberg( a, b), Galia Zamaratskaia (a), Food Science and Technology 74 (2016) 128e134

(a) Department of Food Science, Uppsala BioCenter, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden  (b) Unit of Nutritional Epidemiology, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Insitutet, Stockholm, Sweden

This paper is a methods study testing a new method of detecting antioxidants in wild berries. Although the method information is interesting, of importance to us berry people is the verification that northern berries are endowed with very high levels of antioxidants, in this case flavonols and phenolic compounds even when the berries were  commercially store bought and frozen. Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)  topped the charts of highest flavonols, hydrobenzoic and hydrocinnamic acid compounds with lingonberry (Vaccinium vitas-idaea) and bilberry (V. myrtillus) not far behind. The cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)  had less than half total phenolics of the other berries.  The phenolic compound found in greatest concentration in sea buckthorn was Isorhamnetin; in lingonberry,  quercetin; in bilberry – myricetin; and finally in cloudberry – gallic acid.

berry phenolocs


Wouldn’t it be great if these berries were available frozen in Alaska stores? For now, enjoy berry picking or purchasing fruit at your local farmers market in summer. The health benefits can be great (although you have to eat twice as many cloudberries as the other fruit)!

Using traditional ecological knowledge to understand and adapt to climate and biodiversity change on the Pacific Coast of North America

2019. Victoria Rawn Wyllie de Echeverria , Thomas F. Thornton  Ambio https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-019-01218-6

2019. Wyllie de Echeverria, Thornton

The authors tackle one of the most complex issues in climate change science and ecology – how to include a human element in identifying change including traditional knowledge of plants and animals. How can human experiences, languages and traditions be used to verify change, and how can the importance of these traditions be included in ecological studies of climate change.  One main goal, of course,  is to identify ways indigenous people can maintain customary uses of their region, in this case, coastal areas in Southeast Alaska, while adapting to broader ecological changes that occur in an ecosystem.  Participants in a survey noted weather pattern shifts in their lifetime such as more snow, more rainfall, as well as shifts in the seasons. The researchers also examined language patterns to learn about traditional words used for weather or activities related to weather such as “foods being dried in the sun”. They indicated that changes in plant use in the region was most likely because of land use changes (logging, land development) rather than specific climate change.

One case study examined changes to salmonberry and blueberry species that are considered keystone species because they are used heavily by locals and have a long tradition of use. The authors tried to make connections between people’s recollections, historical knowledge and current practices compared to ecological knowledge of berry picking sites, yields, berry quality and more. I think back to some of the experiments in ecology I have been involved with over the years. They are so complex, it is difficult to isolate a single or even a handful of biological causes for a particular observation. For instance, there are so many reasons why berries might not appear in a season (frost during spring, drought, too much rain, poor soil nutrition, predation, and on and on. Recollections might be due to any or a combination of these factors. Attributing them to climate change is tricky and challenging. Human knowledge might just add to the evidence, but as climate scientists will agree, it takes many, many years and a lot of data points to begin to draw conclusions.


Getting ready for wild blueberries!

This recipe is sure to get you drooling for fresh berry scones. I made them with wild blueberries, and then tried lingonberries– both are great. Also try substituting buttermilk for the heavy cream. Yum!

Blueberry scones



How Many Bee Visits Give Good Fruit Set in Red Raspberries?

Two Prolonged Bee Visits Suffice to Maximize Drupelet Set for Red Raspberry by Corey J. Andrikopoulos and James H. Cane, Utah State University, Logan, HORTSCIENCE 53(10):1404–1406. 2018. https://doi.org/10.21273/HORTSCI13124-18

Everyone knows that insect pollination is critical for fruit set in many commercial berry species. The red raspberry is no exception. It produces an aggregate fruit composed of individual drupelet fruits. If the weather is bad, the insects are not flying, or something else interrupts pollination, you can easily get misshapen fruit and lower yields. Researchers at Utah State found that it only takes two prolonged visits of 1 minute or more to get great fruit set. You don’t need hundreds of bees visiting the flowers. Here are a few tidbits about red raspberries from this article:

  1. Red raspberries are mostly self fertile but because the pollen bearing anthers are not located directly adjacent to the female stigmas, self pollination can be spotty.
  2. A single flower bears 60 – 90  stamens with ample pollen, but bees and other insects are needed to move the pollen to the central region of female stigmas. Each individual stigma needs to be pollinated to get a good fruit.
  3. Previously scientists estimated that up to 68 visits per flower were necessary to get adequate fruit set, but these authors showed that 2 visits were great.
  4. For two visits to be adequate, the bee must really work the flower for a prolonged period of time (up to a minute or more). Bees often spend long times on a newly opened flower first thing in the morning because that’s when nectar flow is at its peak after a night time of storing up nectar in the flower’s nectar pool.
  5. Individual flowers remain receptive for about 2 days, and every morning the nectar pool is recharged. Nectar release is temperature dependent.
  6. By individually covering flowers as they bloomed and comparing them to uncovered controls, the researchers showed that bee visits increased drupelet formation by 2 to 4 times. If a flower was visited first thing in the day for a prolonged period, two such visits would be sufficient to have great fruit formation.
  7. There is also a condition of over visitation where bees actually damage the female stigmas if there are too many of them working the flowers.

Adding honey bee hives to a raspberry garden is a good idea for most commercial businesses. However, Alaska temperatures, especially in the a.m. can be cold – too cold for honey bees to be very active. Since nectar flow is greatest first thing in the morning, wild bumble bees become even more critical for great fruit set in northern gardens.



Fruit and Vegetable Waste That is Not Really Waste

Fruit and Vegetable Waste: Bioactive Compounds, Their Extraction, and Possible Utilization  Narashans Alok Sagar, Sunil Pareek, Sunil Sharma, Elhadi M. Yahia , and Maria Gloria Lobo 2018. Comprehensive reviews in Food Science and Food Safety Vol 00. Available online: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324170873_Fruit_and_Vegetable_Waste_Bioactive_Compounds_Their_Extraction_and_Possible_Utilization

Years ago when I was completing my PhD on lingonberries I learned quite a lot about fruit processing how even the steam created in the process of making lingonberry sauce was captured and “mined” for a whole host of volatile and aromatic compounds that were packaged and sold for use somewhere else in the food industry. This article is a fascinating review of even more modern techniques being used to extract bioactive compounds from what would otherwise be called food waste.  After the apple has been peeled and sliced, there is a tremendous waste stream that includes stems, peels, seeds and pulp that usually ends up in a compost pile or worse- buried in a landfill. “.. Apples generate 10.91% of seed and pulp as by-products, and 89.09% of final products during slicing.”  When you think about the tons of apple products made worldwide, that’s a lot of waste from a single fruit! Bananas yield 35% waste through their peel!

“Losses and waste occur during all phases of the supply and handling chain, including during harvesting, transport to packinghouses or markets, classification and grading, storage, marketing, processing, and at home before or after preparation. Losses occur throughout the supply chain from production throughout all postharvest stages before consumption.”

Although this article emphasizes tropical fruits, it is an eye opener as far as what is actually left behind after processing, and the technology being used to capture such things as dietary fiber, phenolic compounds, flavorings, aromas and more. Most fascinating is a list of fruits that are treated with microorganisms to release a whole rainbow of enzymes, organic acids, and proteins that are then packaged and used in other food products as stabilizers, agents to prevent browning in processed products. We often look at the food industry in a poor light, but food chemistry is far more complex than most people realize, and this is a great example of recycling and repurposing that has been happening for many years.

The article also describes methods by which this waste extraction happens. Such exotic processes as microwave-assisted extraction, pulsed electrical field extraction, enzyme assisted and liquid to liquid extraction seem so foreign but are part of a growing technology to harvest everything of value from the waste stream and make it useful. Pretty impressive! Of course, you could eat the entire apple- peels, seeds and all, but even that would not provide the valuable components liberated by the many extraction techniques.


Optimum nutrient levels in soils and leaves of haskap, Lonicera caerulea



Anyone interested in growing haskaps for berry production will be interested in this thesis from Halifax. Nova Scotia where Master’s student, Keene Mark-Anthony Iheshiulo attempted to find the optimum levels of soil nutrients and correlated that with tissue nutrient levels. This research is important because it gives growers and gardeners a good diagnostic tool for figuring out if nutrient deficiencies or excess exist. It provides a good marker for applying just the right levels of fertilizer in a season and avoiding wasteful applications of fertilizers. Theses are also great summaries of existing literature, and this one is no exception. It provides a nice overview of the haskap, the importance of macro and micro nutrients in fruit production, and soil and tissue testing.

Balanced nutrition is crucial for haskap (Lonicera caerulea L.) growth, productivity, and economically viable commercial production. However, there are no clearly established soil fertility and leaf tissue nutrient sufficiency levels. A field survey was conducted in 2015 and 2016 on 19 farms in Nova Scotia to identify optimal soil fertility and leaf tissue nutrient levels from 148 paired samples. Plant growth rate, leaf size and chlorophyll content were determined for the variety Indigo Gem after berry harvest in 2016. Using a boundary line approach, nutrient sufficiency levels in soil by Mehlich III extraction were 80-280 kg P2O5 ha-1, 260-570 kg K2O ha-1, 1300-4000 kg Ca ha-1, and 250-510 kg Mg ha-1, while leaf nutrient sufficiency ranges were 2.23-2.96.0% for N, 0.22-0.28% for P, 0.84-1.32% for K, 1.63-2.10% for Ca, and 0.14-0.50% for Mg. Further research is needed to validate fertility and leaf nutrient sufficiency ranges in relation to haskap yield 

The thesis is copyrighted and will not be shared here but is available online. http://dalspace.library.dal.ca/bitstream/handle/10222/73917/Iheshiulo-Ekene-MSc-AGR-April-2018.pdf?sequence=5&isAllowed=y

Cloudberry phytonutrients change with season and cultivar

Seasonal and yearly variation of total polyphenols, total anthocyanins and ellagic acid in different clones of cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus L.) 2018. Anne Linn Hykkerud1, Eivind Uleberg, Espen Hansen, Marieke Vervoort, Jørgen Mølmann, Inger Martinussen   Journal of Applied Botany and Food Quality 91, 96 – 102 (2018)

Scientists in Norway have done more than any others in cultivating the cloudberry, Rubus chamaemorus. A lot of research on field cultivation as well as cultivar selection have been done in that country. This study continues that research and studies the levels of two phytonutrients: ellagic acid (the most abundant in cloudberry) and total anthocyanin. They examined the content of the berries in four clones, ‘Fjordgull’, ‘Fjellgull’, ‘102’ and ‘306’ growing in  Tromsø 69°39’N 18°57’E.

Interestingly the anthocyanin which are found in small quantities, varied significantly by the seasonal weather patterns. Anthocyanin levels were greatest in cool seasons and lowest when the weather was hot. They also were highest at the beginning of harvest season and lowest at the end and differed also with cultivar. The most important chemical, ellagic acid did not show the same variation with the seasons. Instead, the biggest factor was genetics. The four cultivars tested showed significantly different levels of this chemical, and those levels also varied by year and by harvest time. Berries lose ellagic acid content life harvested after in the season.

The authors concluded that there is a lot that can be done to select for clones of cloudberry with higher levels of these phytonutrients. It also shows how nutrient levels can change drastically from season to season and even within a single season. Lessons for berry pickers? Pick early in the season. 2018. Rubus chamaemorus


Nutrient content of black currants under different soil treatments

Svetlana M. Paunovi´c, Pavle Maˇskovi´2018. Primary metabolites, vitamins and mineras in berry and leaf extracts in black currants (Ribes nigrum) under different soil management systems. Comptes rendus de l’Acade´mie bulgare des Sciences (71) 2, 299- 308.

This article from Serbia found that in cultivated black currants, fructose was the most common sugar in both leaves and berries while sucrose was very low. In the leaves, the highest levels of fructose, glucose and sucrose occurred on bushes grown through a black plastic mulch when compared to a sawdust mulch and unmatched, fallow soils. The main vitamins in black currants are C, B3 and A. With vitamins, the highest levels in the berries were recorded on plants mulched with sawdust while vitamin A was highest in the black plastic mulch treatments. The highest values for primary metabolites, vitamins and minerals in berry and leaf extracts were achieved by currants grown under sawdust and black plastic mulch. This study showed that changes to how black currants are grown can have a significant effect on the nutritive value of both leaves and berries. They also worked with several cultivars and found significant differences in nutritive quality with cultivar. 18. Black currant

Forest Farms in Southern Sweden

Exploring the potential of edible forest gardens: experiences from a participatory action research project in Sweden   Agroforest Syst https://doi.org/10.1007/s10457-018-0208-8

Johanna Björklund . Karin Eksvärd . Christina Schaffer

This research project explores the feasibility of growing a diversity of crops in a planned, forested area. The goals are lofty:

“The desired functions from the systems were agreed to be the provision of nutritious and tasty food products, nitrogen fixation, nutrient accumulation, the provision of quality food for pollinators, carbon sequestration, contribution to a benign microclimate and the provision of timber. The design and species composition were planned to optimize these functions”

This research reminds me of the permaculture gardens that have risen in popularity across the U.S. Whenever you have a multi-use approach to agriculture, there are a lot of tradeoffs especially in maximizing yield. Having layers of berry bushes growing beneath a nut tree, for instance, reduces light and could adversely impact yield and pollinator activity because the area becomes too shady. There is a desire for timber, but cut trees down and the entire moisture, light, etc. regimes of this ecosystem are changed. One of the plants included in this study was lambs quarter, Chenopodium album, an annual that would most definitely die out after a while because of shading and competition from trees as well as lack of disturbance of the soils. It certainly is a fun exercise and yields of any one crop will suffer, but in my back yard? Why not?

2018. Borklund

Fruit Teas in Poland

Ingredients of popular fruit teas in Poland

Artur Adamczak, Anna Forycka, Tomasz M. Karpiński

Department of Botany, Breeding and Agricultural Technology of Medicinal Plants, Institute of Natural Fibres and Medicinal Plants, Kolejowa 2, 62-064 Plewiska, Poland(Adamczak and Forycka)) and Department of Genetics and Pharmaceutical Microbiology, Poznań University of Medical Sciences, Święcickiego 4, 60-781 Poznań, Poland (Karpiński)

The attached article from Poland shows the incredible diversity of fruit teas in Polish markets. Leaves, fruit, flowers, stems, petals, peels, roots, and juice concentrates  are used in a variety of teas that are popular because of their flavor, aroma and health benefits especially antioxidant content. The most popular fruit teas were raspberry, cranberry and rose hip, but the final tea sometimes contained more than 20 ingredients. Especially common in fruit teas were hibiscus flowers and apple. Apple and rose hip are often the top ingredients because they are cheap and easy to obtain from commercial sources. Even teas labeled raspberry could have hibiscus as the main ingredient. It certainly pays to do your homework and purchase from reputable sources because quality variation is huge. The list of ingredients is diverse and interesting!


Plant Cells as Food

Occasionally I read a journal article and my first response is “Really?” “Why in the world would somebody do that?” This is one such article. These researchers took cloudberry, lingonberry and stone berry (a type of raspberry) tissues and put them into test tubes. This process called tissue or cell culture takes living tissues, puts them into a test tube, adds a cocktail of nutrients and hormones so that the cells divide, and the result is a mass of actively dividing cells that will grow into large blobs of cells. As long as the nutrients and hormone levels are maintained, the cells will divide and divide.

Many years ago, when I was a grad student in Minnesota, other students were working on these cell cultures to see if the mass of cells in the test tubes could be used to harvest large quantities of useful chemicals, pharmaceuticals, bio pesticides and more. Rather than growing the whole plant such as the chrysanthemum-type flower that is the source of the pesticide pyrethrum, you could farm the cells and harvest the pyrethrum from the masses of cells.

Well this study takes cell farming to a new level. You are making masses of cells in a test tube so you can eat them! Rather than enjoying the trek into the woods, filling your bucket full of luscious berries, taking them home, filling your kitchen with the incredible aroma of lingonberry syrup, and then enjoying the fruits of your labor on a pile of pancakes, you will scoop out a mass of pinkish cells from a test tube, and eat them –– not sure how you prepare them. The fresh cells have a “sandy, grainy” texture. Yum!

The research was completed because of the claim that we will be running out of food on this planet because of increased population growth. Using current technology of farming, we will not have enough to feed the world. The solution is cell farming!

My opinion? I’d rather eat sawdust!

Plant cells as food – A concept taking shape (Berry cultures)

Emilia Nordlund, Martina Lille, Pia Silventoinen, Heli Nygren, Tuulikki Seppänen-Laakso, Atte Mikkelson, Anna-Marja Aura, Raija-Liisa Heiniö, Liisa Nohynek, Riitta Puupponen-Pimiä, Heiko Rischer, Food Research International Volume 107, May 2018, Pages 297–305


Plant cell cultures from cloudberry, lingonberry and stoneberry were studied in terms of their nutritional properties as food. Carbohydrate, lipid and protein composition, in vitro protein digestibility and sensory properties were investigated. Dietary fibre content varied between 21.2 and 36.7%, starch content between 0.3 and 1.3% and free sugar content between 17.6 and 33.6%. Glucose and fructose were the most abundant sugars. High protein contents between 13.7 and 18.9% were recorded and all samples had a balanced amino acid profile. In vitro protein digestion assay showed hydrolysis by digestive enzymes in fresh cells but only limited hydrolysis in freeze-dried samples. The lipid analysis indicated that the berry cells were rich sources of essential, polyunsaturated fatty acids. In sensory evaluation, all fresh berry cells showed fresh odour and flavour. Fresh cell cultures displayed a rather sandy, coarse mouthfeel, whereas freeze-dried cells melted quickly in the mouth. All in all the potential of plant cells as food was confirmed.

Bears Like Devil’s Club Berries

For anyone living along southeast Alaska’s coast, the fact that bears like devil’s club berries is a no brainer. Laurie Hart and Taal Levi from Oregon State University demonstrated for the first time that bears not only eat the berries, but they are the main reason devil’s club grows where it does. They are the major seed dispersers of devil’s club in coastal Alaska (their plots were near Haines). This article is a fun read because the authors not only sampled bear manure piles but set up motion detection cameras and swabbed the remains of berry clusters to search for DNA trails from brown and black bears (and even distinguished between male and female bears!)

Brown bears eat the berries first in the season (starting in mid July), then the black bears come in (early to mid August). Birds amounted to about 20% of the feeding and included robins as well as Swainson’s, hermit and varied thrush. When bears chomp on a cluster of devil’s club berries, they devout more than 70% of the fruit. Female bears devour more fruit than males of both species. Both species ate about 30 berries per second or about 100,000 berries per hour! Factoring in the density of bears, they estimated bears disperse over 200,000 seeds per hour per square kilometer! Wow! After the bears have their lunch, additional dispersal occurs from small mammals and squirrels. The next time you have to hack you way through a devil’s club thicket with a machete, blame the bears!

Devil’s club and bears

Ethnobotany of the Naukan speakers, Chukotka District, Russian Far East and Western Alaska


The attached link is an article written by Kevin Jernigan, Olga S. BelichenkoValeria B. Kolosova and Darlene J. Orr that compares uses of plants including berries from the past through elder recollections compared to present uses.  They also compared usage with communities in Nome and Kotzebue. Edible plant use has dropped overall from previous years (13%) but the awareness of medicinal uses has skyrocketed (+225%) no doubt because of the interest in antioxidants and other bioactive components. I completed a similar project in the mid 1990s in Ft. Yukon, Alaska and found about a 20% drop in native plant uses, but my project was before all the interest in antioxidants. 

Some of the plants whose use had actually increased include: wild chives (Allium schoenoprasum), tilsey sage (Artemisia tilesii), crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), river beauty (Epilobium (Camerion) latifolium, mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna), sour dock, (Rumex arcticus), and cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus). The plant locally called stinkweed or tilsey sage is interesting because I found it mentioned in nearly every ethnobotanical reference written in Alaska. It has extensive medicinal uses throughout the state and now the Russian Far East. All the berries mentioned are also the most popular berries harvested in northern Alaska. The berry with the greatest increase in uses from the past is mesutaq better known as masru, lingonberry or low bush cranberry. No surprise there!


Healthy Northern Berries Improve Glucose Utilization

This study from Norway centered around glucose control in the liver. The researchers studied the pathways of glucose uptake and described the enzymes used in the final steps of carbohydrate digestion as alpha-amylase and alpha glucosidase. Any chemical that inhibits these enzymes will slow glucose uptake in the liver and be a benefit to anyone dealing with type 2 diabetes. They studies a lot of berries (bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), black currants (Ribes nigrum),  bog whortleberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus), Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitas-idaea), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), red currant (Ribes rubric), rowan berries (mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia), and sea buckthorn (Hippophae (Elaeagnus) rhamnoides). The phenolic compounds in all the berries inhibited response the enzymes that promote glucose uptake. Some berries had other chemicals that actually promoted glucose uptake: mountain ash and bilberry being the highest. The berries with the most powerful inhibitors were crowberry, cloudberry, bog whortleberry (bog blueberry), and lingonberry with crowberry being ranked number 1!


Taste testing Finnish Honey

This is an interesting research paper from the University of Turku, Finland, the Finnish Beekeepers Association and the Tallin University, Estonia. The researchers conducted sensory taste testing and completed chemical profiles of several Finnish honeys (buckwheat, cloudberry, lingonberry, white sweet clover, willow herb (fireweed) and mixed flower honeys (composed of flowering mustards, clover and raspberry, and a member of the genus, Vaccinium). They found a total of 73 compounds that contribute to the aroma of the honeys. They also tested flavor, smell, color and texture with a panel of 62 people. Buckwheat honey was described as malty with a cheese- and fecal-like and cow- and barn-like aroma. Some called it “earthy”! They found that cloudberry honey had the highest level of aromatic compounds of those tested. It was described as pungent, solvent-like, herbal and citrus-like. Lingonberry honey was described as pleasant and sweet with notes of vanilla and caramel. The others were rated well because they were most familiar to the panelists and their pleasant aromas. The honey samples that rated poorly because of strong, unfamiliar odor, flavor and aftertaste as well as dark color were buckwheat and cloudberry! Both were strongly negative in consumer appeal.

I have eaten buckwheat honey, and it is as strong and “earthy” as described, more like a molasses rather than honey, but still good especially for baking. To lump cloudberry in the category is amazing! I have never seen a beekeeper sell cloudberry honey – not enough flowers in one location, I suspect, but it doesn’t sound like anything I would invest in! Lingonberries and fireweed – yes!

Kortesniemi, M., Rosenvald, S., Laaksonen, O., Vanag, A., Ollikka, T., Vene, K., Yang, B., Sensory and chemical profiles of Finnish honeys of different botanical origins and consumer preferences, Food Chemistry (2017), doi: Honey article