Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Serviceberry Worth "Taming"

By Lou Jonas, Bozeman
(Printed August 19, 1965)

The serviceberry, alias sarviceberry, alias juneberry, alias shadbush, has been a friend of man through many centuries. Indians dried the berries for winter use, and crushed them to form a cake, from which they broke off pieces to add to soup or vegetables.

Pemmican was made of ground-up berries and dried meat, with animal fat added. If a backpacker wants a nourishing, lightweight food, there's probably nothing which can beat this. Indians are also said to have made an eyewash from the boiled green, inner bark.

The white man has made much use of the berries in pies and puddings. In our family, we can as many quarts of serviceberries as we can pick each year, alawys hoping to get 100 before the season is over. Our two little children prefer them, with cream and honey, over most other fruits. Their daddy has gained energy enough to travel over a great many miles of the Rocky Mountains by eating these juicy black berries.

Lou's grandchildren enjoy serviceberries, too!

Moose, Deer, Elk, and domestic goats, and probably most other herbivores, relish the twigs, buds, and bark of the serviceberry, and ruffed grouse seem to feed on the buds more than on any other food, in winter, at least. The moose wintered so low here in our area and fed in the serviceberry patches to such an extent that it will be a pleasant surprise if there is any crop at all this summer.

Serviceberries are easy to recognize, growing as a shrub of three to twelve feet high in most of the Rockies, with an oval leaf with slightly serrate edges. The rounded mass of white flowers bloom some time in May, in Montana, a week or two ahead of the chokecherries.

There is a great difference in the sweetness and size of the serviceberry fruit, due partly to location, but also due to a difference in varieties. It would appear sensible for some horticulturist to choose the best of these varieties and develop them commercially.

A trim, attractively-flowering plant like this, with its healthful fruits, appeals much more to many of us pragmatists than a privet hedge which yields mostly exercise, and a place to spend one's leisure hours, with pruning shears in hand.

If I were going to develop the serviceberry for commercial purposes, I would investigate the patches which grow in various canyons near Bozeman, and also those growing in the Flathead Valley, along some of the gravel roads which run from Montana to Idaho. On one road there we saw the prettiest and most plentiful crop of serviceberries we have ever been fortunate enough to observe.

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