As you are walking on beaches, in open grasslands, or in the woods, look for ruby-red jewels that might be lurking at your feet. Nothing is sweeter than a sun-ripened strawberry picked on a summer day. These tiny, delicious fruits might be smaller than store-bought varieties, but they are packed with flavor. Wild strawberry reminds us to embrace the gifts of the moment.
Identifying Wild Strawberry: Wild strawberries are creeping perennials that grow in mats in open areas including woodlands, gravelly fields, grassy beaches, and mountain meadows. White flowers have five petals and a yellow center with many stamens. Leaves are fan-shaped with toothed edges, especially at the tip, and are divided into three leaflets. Leaves can be smooth and glossy or slightly fuzzy, and are fuzzier on the underside. They persist through the winter. The fruit is fragrant, oval, orange or red-colored, and about ½ inch across. Seeds are on the surface. Long pink runners crawl across the ground, root, and start new plants.
Three species of wild strawberry grow in our region. Coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) grows on the Pacific Coast on sand dunes and bluffs. The leaves are leathery and glossy. Virginia or blue-leaved strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) and woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca) grow inland in open woodlands, fields, and clearings, and are wide spread across North America. Virginia strawberry has depressed seeds and rounder fruit than woodland strawberry, which has pointed fruit tips and protruding seeds.
How to Harvest: Harvesting a significant amount of strawberry is a labor of love, but the results are always worth it. Look for large patches in sunny locations with rich soil or in a recently burned area. In an abundant patch, a dedicated picker can harvest a gallon an hour. Strawberries should be used soon after they are gathered as they have a short shelf life. They can be turned into syrup, infused in vinegar or alcohol, made into jam, or frozen for later use.
Strawberry leaf can be harvested any time between mid-spring when the leaves are fully developed and late summer when the leaves are still vibrant looking. They should be completely dried before using them in tea.
Eating strawberry: Wild strawberries may be only the size of the tip of your pinky finger, but they pack more flavor than the giant strawberries we get in stores. In this time when our global food system values quantity over quality, wild strawberries remind us that some of the most sensational flavors can only be found in the wild. They can be eaten fresh, baked into desserts, added to drinks, made into jam, sauce or fruit leather, or frozen for later use.
Strawberry Medicine: Try picking strawberry leaves, drying them, and making them into a mineral-rich tea. Domestic strawberry leaf can also be used. They have a pleasant, mild flavor and will act as an astringent to gently tighten inflamed tissue including swollen gums, sore throats, upset stomach, sore eyes, burns, and diarrhea. The leaf contains vitamin C, which helps to heal tissue, methyl salicylate, which feels cooling and acts as an anti-inflammatory, and quercetin, which stabilizes inflammation. Recent research has revealed that strawberry contains ellagic acid – an antioxidant with anti-mutagen and anti-carcinogenic properties. Many people value strawberry as a women’s tonic to strengthening blood (it contains iron and other minerals), prevent miscarriage, and ease morning sickness. Strawberry leaf is also nourishing to the skin, and the berries have been used to clean teeth in both Europe and America.
Grow It! Wild strawberries are a great plant to grow in your garden because they come back year after year. A single plant will send out many “runners” that root into new plants. They spread quickly and form a nice ground cover. Strawberry likes rich soil and produces more berries when it gets sunshine. It is best to plant in early fall so they can develop strong roots throughout winter and produce berries in late spring. The berries are so sought after by animals that you might need to protect them with netting when they are ripening.
Derig, E. and Fuller, M. (2001). Wild Berries of the West.
Krohn, E. (2007). Wild Rose and Western Red Cedar.
Lloyd, A. and Chambers, F. (2014). Wild Berries of Oregon and Washington.
Robinson, J. (2014). Eating on the Wild Side.
Thayer, S. (2010). Nature’s Garden.
Turner, N. (1995). Food Plants of Coastal Northwest Peoples.
Strawberry Sauce for the Love of Summer
This delectable sauce captures the sweetness and warmth of summer. It can be enjoyed in countless ways including adding it to drinks like lemonade, mixing it into salad dressing, pouring it over pancakes and of course, for making the classic summer dessert - strawberry shortcake. If you freeze or can a bit, it is the perfect remedy for easing the winter doldrums.
3 cups wild strawberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup honey, brown rice syrup or sugar
*Optional – 2 teaspoons rosewater, ¼ teaspoon vanilla
Place strawberries and lemon juice in a small pot and gently heat, mashing the berries with a spoon until they are soft. Add honey and blend thoroughly. Serve immediately or pour into a glass jar and store in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.
Wild Berry Tea
1 part each strawberry leaf, huckleberry leaf, hawthorn leaf and flower, hawthorn berry, rose hips, ½ part hibiscus and orange peel
This antioxidant-rich tea is a delicious beverage for strengthening our heart and blood vessels. Huckleberry leaf also helps balance blood sugar. Rosehips, hibiscus and orange peel are high in Vitamin C, which supports immune function. Use 1 tablespoon of tea per cup of hot water and steep for 20 minutes. Drink 1-3 cups daily as a tonic.