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Saskatoon

The Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) is a shrub native to North America that contains edible fruits resembling blueberries. It is also called Pacific serviceberry, western serviceberry, alder-leaf shadbush, dwarf shadbush, chuckley pear, or western Juneberry with a historic name of pigeon berry.

Close up of Saskatoon fruit.

The 5- to 15-mm-diameter pomes ripen in early summer. Photo: Walter Siegmund

The deciduous shrub grows up to 1-8m in height with leaves that range from oval to circular shape. The flowers are white in color with 5 distinct petals. During spring, they are seen in short racemes of three to 20 clustered together.

The fruit grows 5-15 mm in diameter and is similar to blueberries. These purple pome ripens in early summer in coastal areas and later in the inlands.

Where it grows

It grows from Alaska across most of western Canada and in the western and north-central United States, from sea level up to 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains and is in abundance in the forest understory. It can be planted both by layering or planting seeds. An individual bush require 2-5 years to bear fruit and may bear fruits for 30 or more years.

Saskatoon are adaptable to most soil types since it has a tolerance of a large range of pH levels. Poorly drained or heavy clay soils lacking organic matter or soil with high water table is not suitable for growth. The plant grows well in sunlit condition and sunlight is required for the fruits to ripen.

Ripe Saskatoon fruit

Saskatoons picked near Wainwright, Alberta. Photo: Ken Eckert

Cautions should be taken because the leaves are poisonous since the leaves contain a precursor to cyanide – of which a large amount can cause death. Also the fruit is liked by birds so netting of the shrub is advised.

The plant is It is hardy to zone (UK) 2 and zone (USDA) 4-6. It can withstand frost. The plant is self-fertile with hermaphrodite flowers which are pollinated by bees.

Why we like it

  • The berries are great for eating fresh.
  • They are also good when cooked or baked in desserts such as pies, tarts, etc.
  • The berries can be used to make preserves, jams, jelly.
  • Dried Saskatoon berries are good too and they keep for a good length of time.
  • Saskatoon berries are used as main ingredient or flavor component in wine, beer, and cider.
  • It is used in making pemmican – a Native American preserved food made of meat and fruit.
  • It is a nectar plant, especially for bees.
  • Provides abundant summer food for wildlife, especially birds.
  • The Saskatoon bushes can be planted and trimmed as hedges and windbreaks.
  • Though small, the wood is very tough. It is good for making tool handles.
  • Leaves of Saskatoon bush can be used as a tea substitute, although this genus of plants is known to contain a cyanide like compound in the leaves. The heat during the boiling destroys the toxin, but caution is advised.

Medicinal Use

“Saskatoon was quite widely employed as a medicinal herb by the North American Indians, who used it to treat a wide range of minor complaints[257]. It is little used in modern herbalism. An infusion of the inner bark is used as a treatment for snow-blindness[172]. A decoction of the fruit juice is mildly laxative. It has been used in the treatment of upset stomachs, to restore the appetite in children, it is also applied externally as ear and eye drops[257]. A decoction of the roots has been used in the treatment of colds[257]. It has also been used as a treatment for too frequent menstruation[257]. A decoction of the stems, combined with the stems of snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp) is diaphoretic. It has been used to induce sweating in the treatment of fevers, flu etc and also in the treatment of chest pains and lung infections[257]. A decoction of the plant, together with bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata) has been used as a contraceptive[257]. Other recipes involving this plant have also been used as contraceptives including a decoction of the ashes of the plant combined with the ashes of pine branches or buds[257]. A strong decoction of the bark was taken immediately after childbirth to hasten the dropping of the placenta. It was said to help clean out and help heal the woman’s insides and also to stop her menstrual periods after the birth, thus acting as a form of birth control[257].” – Plants for the Future

Where To Get It

United States

Oikos Tree Crops

Sheffield’s Seed Company

Europe

Agroforestry Research Trust

Learn More

Plant For The Futre


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