Our Park's Edible Berries

Our Park's Edible Berries

By Peyton Proffitt

Have you ever snacked on berries in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? If you haven’t, now is the time! National park visitors are allowed to pick edible berries and have a taste but are reminded not to disturb the plant as a whole. Be mindful of where you're picking and don’t wander too far off the trail. Check out the list below to decide which berries you want to search for. 

“Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.” - Wendell Berry

Have you ever snacked on berries in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? If you haven’t, now is the time! National park visitors are allowed to pick edible berries and have a taste but are reminded not to disturb the plant as a whole. Be mindful of where you're picking and don’t wander too far off the trail. Check out the list below to decide which berries you want to search for.

8 Common Edible Berries Found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

1. Deerberry

Deerberry is in the blueberry family and is commonly found throughout Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In his book “Edible Wild Plants,” author Oliver Perry Medsger describes deerberries this way: “Deerberry or Squaw Huckleberry has fruit round or slightly pear-shaped, sometimes half an inch in diameter, green or greenish-yellow when ripe and is sour. I am assured by people living in the mountains that, after being stewed and properly sweetened, they make excellent pies.” Deerberry is found in its greatest density along Abrams Creek and other damp areas on the west side of the park.

2. Red Mulberry

The author among the berries.
“The buds of this tree are green and the twigs are generally hairless. If you break the leaf stems, they should exude a milky sap. Red mulberries' edible red and purple berries ripen in June. They are found only at the lowest elevations (usually below 2,200’) especially around Cades Cove, Abrams Creek, Elkmont, and Greenbrier. Though not the favourite berry of mountain folk, some did use the berries for jellies, pies, and wine. Even today, children in the know are big fans of mulberries. Songbirds and many mammals gobble the berries and spread seeds far and wide.” Fun fact: unripe mulberries or sap may be toxic or hallucinogenic.

3. Red Elderberry

The elderberry is widely used in jelly and jams. The Cherokee made a decoction of red elderberry roots to treat various gastrointestinal ailments. Elderberry tea is known to help ease the painful symptoms of rheumatism. In the park, red elderberry can be spotted in its highest density along the Appalachian Trail.

4. Wild Strawberry

This berry is so well known, it needs no introduction. Wild strawberry can be identified by the soft hairs on leaves, white flowers, and the famous red berries that become ripe in June and July. Dr. William Butler (17th-century writer) wrote of the berry, “Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.” Below you can find the location of wild strawberries throughout the park.

5. Hairy Blueberry

The hairy blueberry is native only to Tennessee, North Carolina, northern Georgia and South Carolina. These berries represent the late summer of mountain folks throughout Southern Appalachia. The most popular place to see these berries are on the dense shrubs atop Gregory Bald. They’re ripe right now!

6. Smooth Blackberry

The stems of the smooth blackberry are often long and prickly; the berries are picked from a vine. They are found sparingly on both sides of the park and are native from Canada to Georgia. While frequently spotted in the park, this species is endangered in both Kentucky and New Jersey. Walt Whitman said of this berry, “The running [smooth] blackberry would adorn the parlours of heaven.” Bears in the park would likely agree with Whitman.

7. Service Berry

Most old-timers agree that the common name “serviceberry” originated during the days of circuit-riding preachers. The preachers would arrive in the spring, about the time the Serviceberry tree bloomed, and conduct the first service. The tasty, purple fruits resemble tiny apples and are ripe by mid-June in the low elevations, but not until August at the higher elevations. They are common up to 6,000’, especially in moist coves, near streams and on grass balds.

8. Common Persimmon

This may be a surprise to some, but persimmons are actually berries. The unripened fruit of the Persimmon tree is so sour that the Cherokee called it "tsa-la-lu-i," meaning “pucker mouth.” Local connoisseurs say to wait until several hard frosts have passed before eating. Pioneers used the ripe fruits for salads, jellies, cakes, and custards. Bear, fox, raccoon, skunk, and opossum are also very fond of the fruit.

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During the 19th century, mothers and children would head into the mountains toward summer's end to harvest nature's bounty of berries. Ever watchful for bears, families would fill bucket after bucket with fresh, natural foods to help them survive the winter ahead. In remembrance of these days, Great Smoky Mountains Association offers authentic preserves prepared in small batches the old-fashioned way.

These preserves are the next best thing to picking berries right off the shrub on Gregory Bald. We guarantee you'll taste the difference. All purchases benefit the park.

Blueberry Preserves | Blackberry Preserves | Strawberry Preserves

Regular Price: $5.99 | Member Price: $5.09

Check these resources before you go berry pickin’

GSMNP Species Mapper
Trees and Shrubs Checklist

Our Park's Edible and Non-edible Berries

Amelanchier stolonifera running serviceberry (VERY RARE), 850'-2500'
Aronia arbutifolia hairy chokeberry (SCARCE), wide range of elevations
Aronia melanocarpa black chokeberry (INFREQUENT), wide range of elevations
Aronia X prunifolia purple chokeberry (HISTORIC), 850'-2500'
*Berberis thunbergii Japanese barberry (RARE). 850'-2500'
*Berberis vulgaris common barberry (RARE), 850'-2500'
Callicarpa americana beautyberry (RARE) 850'-2500'
Euonymus obovatus running strawberry-bush (FREQUENT), 850'~4500'
Gaylussacia baccata black huckleberry (FREQUENT) 850'~4500'
Gaylussacia ursina bear huckleberry (FREQUENT) 850'~4500'
Lyonia ligustrina maleberry (OCCASIONAL) wide range of elevations
*Ribes aureum var. villosum Missouri currant (RARE) found near old homesites
Ribes cynosbati prickly gooseberry (OCCASIONAL) 2,500’~4,500’
Ribes glandulosum skunk currant (INFREQUENT) 4,500’-6,600’
Ribes rotundifolium round-leaved currant (OCCASIONAL) 2500'-6600'
Rubus allegheniensis hairy blackberry (FREQUENT) 850'-2500'
Rubus alumnus blackberry (OCCASIONAL) 850'-2500'
Rubus argutus highbush blackberry (FREQUENT) 850'-2500'
Rubus canadensis smooth blackberry (FREQUENT) wide range of elevations
Rubus flagellaris Northern dewberry (OCCASIONAL) 850'-2500'
Rubus hispidus swamp dewberry (RARE) 850'-2500'
Rubus idaeus ssp. strigosus American red raspberry (SCARCE) 4,500’-6,600’
Rubus occidentalis black raspberry (OCCASIONAL) 850'-2500'
Rubus odoratus purple-flowering raspberry (OCCASIONAL) wide range of elevations
*Rubus phoenicolasius wineberry (RARE) 850'-2500'
Rubus suus Jennison’s blackberry (OCCASIONAL) 850'-2500'
Rubus trux truculent blackberry (SCARCE) 850'-2500'
Sambucus canadensis American elder (COMMON) 850'~4500'
Sambucus racemosa var. pubens red-berried elder (COMMON) wide range of elevations
*Symphoricarpos orbiculatus coralberry (OCCASIONAL) wide range of elevations
Vaccinium angustifolium lowbush blueberry (RARE) 2500'-6600'
Vaccinium arboreum sparkleberry (SCARCE) 850’-2500’
Vaccinium corymbosum tall woodland blueberry (FREQUENT) 850'~4500'
Vaccinium erythrocarpum mountain cranberry-bush (OCCASIONAL) 4500’-6600’
Vaccinium hirsutum hairy blueberry (INFREQUENT) 850'~4500'
Vaccinium pallidum pale lowbush blueberry (COMMON) wide range of elevations
Vaccinium stamineum talll deerberry (COMMON) 850'~4500'
Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides wild raisin (OCCASIONAL) wide range of elevations
*Viburnum opulus highbush cranberry (RARE) found near old homesites
*Broussonetia papyrifera paper mulberry (RARE) Found near old homesites
Celtis laevigata smooth hackberry (RARE) 850’-2,500’
Celtis occidentalis common hackberry (RARE) 850’-2,500’
Diospyros virginiana persimmon (FREQUENT) 850’-2,500
Amelanchier arborea hairy-leaved shadbush or serviceberry (OCCASIONAL) 850’-4500’
Amelanchier laevis smooth shadbush, Juneberry, or serviceberry (FREQUENT) 850’-4500’
*Morus alba white mulberry (RARE) found near old homesites
Morus rubra red mulberry (OCCASIONAL) 850’-2,500’

Berry Key

Common—characteristic and dominant

Frequent—generally encountered

Occasional—well distributed, but nowhere abundant

Infrequent—scattered locales throughout the park

Scarce—several locales or scattered small populations

Rare—l or 2 locales small populations

Very rare—single locale, few individuals

Historic—documented in park’s flora, but not seen for at least 50 years

Believed extirpated, or not seen for at least 50 years

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