This is a new wild food on my radar, brought to my attention by a reader who sent me a photo, asking, “What’s this?” I thought the leaf shape resembles currants and the bright orange berries looked similar to salmonberry, but it clearly wasn’t either. Then one day I was looking through Plants Of The Pacific Northwest Coast, the comprehensive field guide by Pojar and MacKinnon, and there was a very similar looking plants, listed in the shrub section: Cloudberry, Rubus chamaemorus.
I was eager to taste one, but where would I find it? I had never before seen it in a local forest or wilderness area, and I spend a lot of time exploring them. This reader (hello, Bruce!) told me he had seen it near a library in a town outside of Portland, a place I wasn’t likely to venture unless I made a special trip of it. Then, just the other day, I was visiting Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum to prepare for a plant walk I’ll be doing as part of a fundraising event next weekend — which, by the way, involves foraging and acrobats hanging from the trees!!!! It sold out fast, or else I’d be telling you to scoop up a ticket right away. I hope they do another!
So, where was I? Ah yes, I was at the arboretum, and I parked my car and I was walking around a little traffic island on the way to the entrance of the gift shop, and there it was: Cloudberry, growing like a carpet, a sprawling and dense ground cover — and ripe! I picked them eagerly, and thought as I ate them that in flavor they were like gentle raspberries, but less tart. And in texture, since they are soft and juicy, they remind me of salmonberries.
Cloudberries have historically been a common and favored wild food among indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest, who ate it both raw and cooked, though it also grows in Europe and Northern Asia, and has long been eaten there, too — at least since the sixteenth century, where it was called “Knottberry,” according to the Pojar guide.
Plants for a Future, a crowd-sourced database for botanicals, sort of like Wikipedia, described the flavor of the berries as “like baked apples.” I don’t know about that, but it sure would make one helluva pie!
Updated 7/30: A reader e-mailed to say that this may be a plant with the common name “Emerald Carpet,” Rubus hayata-koidzumii, a lookalike relative that is native to Taiwan, and not Rubus chamaemoris, which is native to the Pacific Northwest. Because Cloudberry reportedly doesn’t grow south of Canada, this would make sense.
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