Serviceberry - The Forgotten Gem

Serviceberries (also known as Saskatoon berries or juneberries) are a lesser known, but very useful, berry.  Due to its nutritional value and its versatility, this berry should be a serious consideration to add to your foraging and prepping database. While some people do not care for the taste of serviceberries picked right from the bush, their flavor improves when made into jam or syrup.

One of the benefits of adding serviceberries to your foraging plan is the fact that they are not as well-known as other berries, like the huckleberry, so you are less likely to find your favorite picking spot overrun by other foragers.  I have friends and family who love to pick huckleberries but keep the location of their picking area a close secret for this reason. Not so with serviceberries.  The same family members who love to pick huckleberries only look confused when I asked if they pick serviceberries, too. I am not sure if it is because they have no idea what a serviceberry is, or because they can't figure out why I would bother with them.  In spite of this, it was my husband's cousin who introduced me to the serviceberry.  She told me that while it didn't have much flavor when eaten fresh, it was their absolute favorite in jam.  She was right.  While some of our family doesn't care for the fresh berry, it has become one of our favorite syrups, especially when paired with the pannu kakku recipe my husband makes.


Serviceberry is high in nutrition, which is a definite plus when considering adding it to your preparedness or foraging plqn. It contains a variety of vitamins and minerals including, but not limited to,  vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and iron.  It contains higher amounts of vitamin C and calcium than blueberries (1) and are relatively high in protein for a berry. I suspect the protein content may be due to the seeds, which are somewhat reminiscent of almond in flavor.

Serviceberry harvest

Uses and Methods of Preserving

Traditional uses of this berry include making pemmican, using a root bark tea to treat diarrhea and menstrual cramping (2), using the leaves to make a tea (3), and more. The berries can be eaten or used fresh, dried like raisins, frozen, juiced, or made into pies, jams,  syrups, and wine.

Things to Know

Serviceberries ripen throughout a period of a few weeks.   As the berries grow on the bush, they turn from whitish-green, to pink, to red, to dark purple-blue.  They are most flavorful when picked ripe. However, because they are very popular with the birds and do not all ripen at one time, it is sometimes difficult to find an abundance of ripe berries on one bush. They will continue to ripen after you have picked them, so I do not hesitate to  pick them when they still have a little bit of red tinge and let them finish ripening in a shallow box at home. Since we have several bushes on our property, I go out to pick every other morning for a couple of weeks and freeze what I pick. This allows me to save up enough berries to make a batch of syrup and to make it at a later point in the year when I have more time. If you can find a large patch of bushes, you may be able to find enough in one visit to meet your needs.  

Bushes tend to grow in amongst other trees and shrubs so being able to properly identify the serviceberry bush and berry is important.  The berry bushes on our property have grown in amongst black hawthorn, which also has dark blue/black berries that strongly resemble the serviceberry. Fortunately, the hawthorn's leaves are different, the berries are more shiny, the branches have impossible-to-miss thorns, and the bark of the two trees is different. Nonetheless, where the branches are right next to each other, a quick check for the leaves is sometimes necessary to keep the two separate.

While not as large as a pit, serviceberry seeds can be rather big in comparison to the berry size.  In addition, the berries tend to run a little on the dry side. This can make the small berries less palatable for eating fresh and unless you have very large berries, you can end up with a rather seedy jam. When making jam or syrup, I handle this in two ways:

1) I cover the berries with water, mash them, and then cook them down.  This allows the flavor to seep into the water and gives me more juice with which to work.

2) I then run the cooked berries through a food mill to remove the seeds, leaving only the pulp and juice.

We have been picking serviceberries for two years and have used them all for jam and syrup, but there are many options for using these berries. We will be drying some this year to use as raisins and to try a secondary method of preservation for prepping purposes.T he internet abounds with recipes for serviceberry jams, pies, muffins, ice cream, wine, pemmican, and more. Do yourself a favor - find a place to pick serviceberries and delve into the many ways they can be used.

Remember to always properly identify any plant before you harvest and to pick responsibly. Happy foraging!