Salmonberry

Rubus spectabilis

Herbs gallery - Salmonberry

Common names

  • Salmonberry

The salmonberry (scientific name Rubus spectabilis) is a plant from the rose family. Its relatives are thorny plants like the thimbleberry, raspberry, cloudberry and nagoonberry. It should not be confused with the cloudberry, which is sometimes named the low bush salmonberry.

The original native area of the salmonberry was probably along the Western coasts of the USA, from California all the way to Western Alaska. Salmonberry was also found inland, with Idaho being the limit of its expansion. It thrives in the wild especially in wet coastal areas of Washington and Oregon but it is quite rare away from the coast and to the south. The taste of the salmonberry fruit has made it a popular cultivated plant all over the world.

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The salmonberry is a rhizomatous shrub that can reach a height between 1 and 4 m. It is a deciduous species, losing its leaves in the winter. It enjoys wetlands and other moist locations and can usually be found in large numbers along streams. The stems can be erect or arched and are protected by small thorns. The leaves have a length between 7 and 22 cm and consist of three leaflets, with the middle one being larger than the rest. The leaves are triangular in shape, with jagged irregular edges. The channels of the veins are visible on the leaves. The bloom lasts between the start of spring and early summer, approximately from March to June. Flowers are purple or pink, with a diameter of 2 or 3 cm, and consist of five petals.

Even if it doesn't seem very obvious, the salmonberry is related to roses, blackberries, raspberries and other varieties of brambles. The fruits resemble the raspberry ones, with an oval or globular shape and about 1.5 or 2 cm in size. Their color varies from yellow to orange or red. They consist of many small globules and ripen between June and August, in the summer months. The fruits are sweet and vaguely sour, with a special aroma that makes them a valuable food ingredient.

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Salmonberry is cultivated on a large scale, mainly as an ornamental plant for its beautiful flowers. It has spread from the gardens into the wild in Europe and can be found today from the British Isles to Ireland and the Faroe Islands. Its alternate name is Joffelberry and is added for flavor in vodka in northwestern Europe.

Parts used

Berry, bark, leaves, root.

Uses

Both the leaves and the root have astringent effects. An old remedy for burns was to apply chewed salmonberry leaves on top of them, the powder of the bark is also effective for this purpose. The root bark is known to have astringent, disinfectant, stomachic and analgesic properties and it can cure digestive issues if prepared as a decoction. The same decoction serves as a painkiller for women during labor. Bark poultice can also relieve teeth pains. Chewed bark can clean wounds or burns and reduce the amount of pain.

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Quinault natives still use an old remedy prepared by boiling the bark of salmonberry in seawater. The resulting beverage can be ingested as a treatment for burns, infected wounds and labor pain. Infusions made using the roots were known to help gaining weight, by stimulating the appetite. At the same time, a leaves infusion has other uses: reducing pain during labor, decreasing prolonged periods of female menstruation and as a general cure for anemia. Diarrhea and various other digestive issues were treated by chewing the dried leaves of the herb.

The salmonberry has been especially known for its antiseptic and analgesic effects. Either as a poultice or as a decoction, it calms down labor pain, speeds up the healing of burns and wounds, reduces infection and eliminates a wide range of stomach disorders.

Culinary uses

Salmonberries have a similar structure to raspberries and are both edible and delicious. While some people consider the fruit to be tasteless, it has numerous culinary uses. The taste actually depends on location and if the fruits are ripe or not. They can be consumed fresh or turned into wine, jam, candies or jelly. The North American natives considered the salmonberry fruits a major source of food and usually consumed them with salmon roe or oolichan grease. The high amount of water makes the fruits unsuited for preservation in dried form.

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The salmonberry fruits have a particular flavor and are very juicy, the typical way to prepare them is as a jam or jelly. The fruits are comparable to strawberries in size but are considered inferior in flavor. In areas with cooler summers, they don't become completely ripe and can be slightly bitter. Their color can be yellow, orange or red. Young plants can be consumed like raw green vegetables after peeling, or cooked like an asparagus, but have to be harvested when tender in early spring. The salmonberry flowers are also edible in raw form. The leaves are used to brew a tea.

Habitat and cultivation

In the wild, salmonberries are found mostly in forests close to the coast, along streams and in other wet locations. They are often combined with Alnus rubra (red alder) in the open and tend to create large groups.

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The best locations to cultivate the salmonberry are sunny or partially shaded ones, with loamy grounds and adequate drainage. The plants can also be planted in full shade but might not be able to produce fruit. Salmonberry tolerates harsh frosts, with a limit of about -25 Celsius degrees. It is often used as an ornamental plant but it can become invasive and is known to be very vulnerable to the honey fungus.

Seeds are viable and can be used for propagation. For best results, plant them in a cold frame at the start of autumn. Seeds can also be stored but need one month of stratification at a temperature of 3 Celsius degrees. Stored seeds should be sowed at the beginning of the year. The seedlings should be protected by a cold frame for about one year and can be relocated to their final location at the end of spring. The salmonberry can also be propagated by cuttings of partially ripe wood, moved to a frame during the summer months and relocated out in the autumn. Division happens in early spring and the tip layering in the summer.

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