In Chippewa, guzigwa’kominaga’wunj, referring to the shad fish spawning when the serviceberry blooms. The English name serviceberry has origins related to when one can finally have funeral services/burial for winters dead. They’re also called juneberries even though you’ll be waiting until the end of June or later for ripe berries.
Here around Haliburton, Ontario you’ll find, to the least: downy (amelanchier arborea), mountain (amelanchier bartramania), smooth (amelanchier laevis), roundleaf (amelanchier sanguinea var. sanguinea and var. grandiflora), dwarf or low (amelanchier spicata var. spicata and var. stolonifera). The species are difficult to distinguish.
Smooth serviceberry (left below) is the most referenced. I have that and Canada serviceberry (right below) planted around one of my ponds, both pictured. Because this shrub is so abundant it’s worthwhile to become familiar with around here! When they grow up and flower, I’ll update the pictures!
Edible Uses of Serviceberry
The flavorful fruits can be eaten fresh (spit out the seeds when consuming raw berries! See note in Warnings below!), dried like raisins, or mashed and dried, and even canned. They are best cooked. They can be added to soups, stews, pies, pancakes, puddings, muffins, jams, jellies, sauces, syrups, wine, pemmican – versatile as blueberries. They pair well with sourer berries in recipes when you need to add sweetness.
They fully ripen into a dark purple around the same time as blueberries.
The seeds and twigs have a faint, bitter almond flavor. This is due to cyanide compounds that are removed with cooking or drying.
The berry is rich in iron and copper.
Medicinal Uses of Serviceberry
Serviceberry is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Astringent. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes an inner bark concoction as a wash for eye soreness from the sun or snow blindness. Like many berries, the juice is used for stomach upset.
It’s traditionally used for support of moms-to-be and mothers too, like the inner bark, fruit and twig teas for afterbirth pains.
Alternative Uses of Sarviss
A purple dye can be obtained from the berry juice.
At a glance, I wouldn’t immediately think of using serviceberry for woodworking, but it is useful as such. The straight stems are used for arrows, spears, and pipes. Thicker branches can be used for walking sticks, fishing rods, tool handles, etc. I see a fun fishing rod, hawthorn hook, pick your cordage for the line project here in the future!
Haliburton’s Friends of Ecological & Environmental Learning is who I got my new serviceberry shrubs from, during their annual spring sale. They transplant well and bird lovers note – they’re not just a tree but can be allowed to form into bird attractive clumps and hedgerows, with beautiful autumn colors too! I sometimes think of one day offering birders paradise landscaping services and planting native serviceberry would be one of my shticks.
The leaves and pits contain poisonous cyanide compounds that cooking or drying destroys.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.
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Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants