Huckleberry picking and the reward of this deeply flavorful fruit is truly an unforgettable life experience. These tiny berries are rich in antioxidants that may help protect the heart, protect brain function, reduce cancer risk, and more.
Huckleberry benefits more than health: it will benefit your senses, your taste buds, and your sense of adventure! Learn where to find huckleberries, where to buy huckleberries, how to make a huckleberry syrup recipe and more in this post!
Montana huckleberries are a local and hidden gem. These tiny berries are only found on steep mountainsides.
Finding huckleberries is a physical feat and a great way to encounter wild animals too. Sometimes a massive bear will beat you to them, and you will feel the humbling sensation of wilderness far bigger than humanity. The reward in taste, exhilaration, and endurance, is nothing but intense.
Also, there are no such things as huckleberry farms; they are only found in the wild. You must get your adventure on to find them.
What is a Huckleberry?
Huckleberries (Vaccinium membranaceum) are related to and look like small blueberries and bilberries.. This specific species is exclusive to Montana and Idaho.
Huckleberry strains are part of the heather family of plants. There are over 4200 plants in the heather family. Huckleberry, or Vaccinium berries, contain over 400 species worldwide and 26 are native to the United States.
The Vaccinium species also include the blueberry and cranberry.
Eastern versus Wild Mountain Huckleberries
Eastern huckleberry plants are not closely related to the wild mountain huckleberries; Eastern huckleberries fall in the Gaylusaccia species. The flavor is not nearly as potent in the Eastern varieties compared to the Montana huckleberries and Idaho huckleberries.
Northwest huckleberries are more closely related to blueberries than Eastern huckleberries. Montana huckleberries and Idaho huckleberries make up a large portion of bears’ diets as well, with estimates of up to one-third of their food intake. Picking huckleberries is also a great way to spot a bear!
The demand by people for huckleberries continues to go up while supply is down . However, fire years seem to give the crop boosts, so the product may improve at any given time.
Notice the deep pigments of the huckleberry here. The color comes from a pigment in nature called anthocyanin. You will see this in almost every blue-red pigmented vegetable or fruit and even in some grains like forbidden black rice.
These tiny, fragrant berries are legends of Montana and Idaho. If you come here in the summer, you may never want to leave after experiencing the taste. You can smell huckleberries on a mountainside before you can see them because their natural perfume is rather strong.
Huckleberries make blueberries seem bland and boring in comparison. They have a flavor profile that is well beyond any berry I’ve ever tasted. For this reason, a little goes a long way in cuisine, and they mix nicely with pears, peaches, strawberries, and more.
How to Find Huckleberries
Montana huckleberries and Idaho huckleberries are wild and always will be. No one has successfully grown or domesticated them. This is one of many reasons they are coveted.
My friends and neighbors will spend days of their summer only to find a small bowl-full. Walking up a steep slope of the mountainous Montana regions in mid-summer, you will occasionally be delighted to find a small patch of huckleberries.
Most likely you will smell their aroma before you see them. They typically grow only on the partially-shaded sides of the mountain. Lucky for me, there are people who know where to go; they sell lovely huckleberries by the pound at Missoula farmers markets! This includes:
- Missoula Farmers Market
- Clark Fork Market
You can also find huckleberries in and around Glacier Park. Huckleberry bushes thrive in areas previously burned by forest fires. One area can be thick with them, and a few short years later, the berry crop will be scarce in that area.
For this reason, huckleberry enthusiasts will speak in hushed tones about their secret berry-picking spots but will come back to work on Monday and brag about their berry “mother lode” harvest and adventure of the weekend.
You will be in need of the huckleberry’s electrolytes by the time you reach the little gems.
Where to Buy Huckleberries
Huckleberries for sale are hard to find because of their rare appearance in nature.
Are they expensive? Yes, but you only need a little bit of them for a strong flavor impact.
A pound can give you GALLONS of flavor in comparison to blueberries. A pound of huckleberries can easily cost $12 and up per pound.
The price-tag in no way compensates for the flavor-value you get. It could take you more than a day to pick that amount so it can save you time to buy them outright.
How to Pick Huckleberries
Tools are available to pick huckleberries. These tools, called huckleberry rakes, grasp the berries from the bush, saving you some back bending.
Native Peoples used the spine of salmon to help comb the little berries off the bush more efficiently.
Huckleberry Benefits for Health
Tiny huckleberries are rich in anthocyanin pigments, which are a type of antioxidants .
Huckleberry’s medicine and uses for health likely began way before recorded history. They were used as a food staple for Native Americans. In foods, over 500 types of anthocyanins exist. They belong to a class of compounds called flavonoids. With over 8000 anthocyanins being identified; the list keeps growing.
Only one research study exists about this exact species of Montana Huckleberry, nutritionally speaking. However, the components found in these berries include anthocyanins, which are clinically studied to benefit health in many ways. Research about anthocyanin health benefits is growing and these benefits include:
- Antioxidant activity
- Anti-allergic activity
- Anti-inflammatory benefit
- Anti-viral action
- Antiproliferative (reduce spread)
- Anti-mutagenic (reduce cancer)
- Anti-carcinogenic (reduce cancer)
- Protection from cardiovascular damage
- Microcirculation improvement
- Peripheral capillary fragility prevention
- Diabetes prevention
- Vision improvement
Huckleberry Heart Health Benefits
The strongest research data for anthocyanins is their ability to reduce LDL or bad cholesterol.
In a review of 10 clinical studies in humans, anthocyanins had a beneficial effect on cholesterol and had no negative side effects at high doses .
Anthocyanins also help to reduce cholesterol absorption in the gut .
People who eat at least 3 servings of anthocyanin-rich foods like huckleberries per week have a 30% reduced risk of heart attacks .
Huckleberry Brain Function Benefits
People who eat berries that are rich in anthocyanins, like huckleberries, may have improved brain function. In a recent large observational study, berry intake reduced the risk of brain aging by about 2.5 years .
Anthocyanins such as those in huckleberries increase memory and brain function in rats that were deprived of estrogen. Low estrogen is a known risk factor for memory loss .
Huckleberries May Help Detoxification
Huckleberry’s health benefits likely extend to our liver and our digestive tract as well. We need healthy livers to help cleanse the blood and detoxify the body.
Anthocyanin-rich foods like huckleberries helped protect the liver from the damages of toxic alcohol in rats .
Huckleberries May Reduce Cancer Risk
Anthocyanin-rich foods like huckleberries may reduce the risk of the most common types of cancer.
This research is preliminary at this point .
How To Use Huckleberries
Huckleberries are ripe for a short period of time, through late June and early August.
We find ways to enjoy them all year long by canning, freezing, and more.
In Montana and Idaho, you might find recipes for huckleberries in just about everything from cocktails to ice cream, desserts, potatoes, chicken, and pork dishes, to name a few.
It seems there are infinite ways to enjoy this intensely purple berry!
Here are some sweet and savory huckleberry recipes for you to enjoy. Personally, I enjoy huckleberries the most when they are prepared in the simplest of ways: fresh from the mountain, fresh from the market, or with some juicy peaches.
Huckleberry Syrup Recipe
This is a sugar-free huckleberry syrup recipe if you consider that no processed sugars are added. Honey technically has sugar, but it is a natural form.
You can try adding natural sugar-free sweeteners such as monk fruit or stevia, but it will lose some of the texture and taste quality that honey provides. Many health experts, including me, consider honey a health food.
If you have diabetes, make sure to consider the total carbohydrate count and factor that into your daily meal plan.
You can easily convert this into a sugar-free huckleberry jam recipe as well. How? Add pectin according to directions for blueberry jam recipes. Huckleberry preserves like this will be a treat all year long!
Store this tasty huckleberry syrup in Mason jars. You can reuse these jars over and over for many canning food recipes and food gifts.
Huckleberry Syrup Recipe
- Combine huckleberries and honey in a pain. Mix together and bring to a boil. Boil on low-medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Optional step: In a separate bowl, mix cornstarch and water. Add cornstarch mixture to the fruit. *This is only if you desire a thicker sauce.
Huckleberry Ice Cream
While I don’t eat sugar frequently, food is also about making memories. You might want to splurge just this one time. Just make sure to go for a hike on the trails of Mount Sentinel.
You can also make your own huckleberry ice cream recipe by simply stirring some berries into your vanilla ice cream for an exotic taste.
Other Huckleberry Recipe Ideas
While the huckleberry syrup recipe is my all-time favorite and the most versatile, here are some other creative ways to use fresh huckleberries and frozen huckleberries.
- Huckleberry Cheesecake Huckleberry cheesecake is simple; just add the huckleberry syrup or huckleberry jam on top of your favorite cheesecake.
- Huckleberry Scones Huckleberry scones are amazing too! Simply substitute for blueberries in blueberry scone recipes. For many people, gluten-containing huckleberry recipes are a no-no for health. Don’t fear! Gluten-free baking is really easy with the following huckleberry recipe ideas.
- Huckleberry Pancakes Simply stir huckleberries into your favorite pancake batter.
- Huckleberry Bark Check out Missoula Valley Lifestyle for a great huckleberry bark recipe. An occasional indulgence for sure!
- Huckleberry Cookies Check out Flat Creek Ranch’s Huckleberry Cookie Recipe.
- Gluten-Free Huckleberry Recipes Gluten-free huckleberry recipes are simple to make. Simply substitute Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Gluten-Free Baking Flour for your wheat flour or all-purpose flour in recipes. Another great gluten-free flour option is Better Batter Gluten-Free Flour.
Montana huckleberries are more than fruit. They are a healthy experience of a lifetime.
A visit to Montana or Idaho in the summer maybe your most unforgettable yet, with memories of the fragrant huckleberry lasting for years to come.
Enjoy the huckleberry syrup recipe in winter when dreaming of hiking the mountains of the great Northwest.
Photo credits: johnashleyfineart.com/
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