Wild Plants of the Copper Basin: Nagoonberry (Rubus arcticus) Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
By Janelle Eklund
As I walked down the Old Edgerton this morning the pungent aroma of plant decay wafted up my nostrils and into my brain where the vision of decay painted a beautiful picture of yellows, reds, oranges, and fading green. The plant kingdom seems to celebrate its eminent death with a party to beat all parties. The Japanese call this Wabi Sabi - finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. I learned this term while taking a macro plant photo workshop with the late Nancy Rotenberg some years back. One of our assignments was to find Wabi Sabi, connect with it, and capture it in a photo. And it wasn't the photo that was important, it was the experience and the celebration of life in all its forms. Nancy lived that life and her photography was a picture into her very soul and heart.
I have picked nagoonberrys where they grew amongst the diamond willow in a damp area behind the old house. The berry resembles a raspberry in shape. Their shiny red color makes them glow with happiness. They are quite delicious. They don't grow real abundantly but if you can find a good patch they are great for just eating or making jams, jellies, pie, or putting in the freezer for a winter time taste treat. If you are enjoying them in the raw eat them up within 2-3 days as they don't last much longer than that in the fridge. They do keep well in the freezer.
They are another one of those plants that love to hug the ground. In the summer it wears a pretty pink flower with five to eight petals. This stately flower changes its dress into a pretty red berry as summer is just starting to think about dying. Summer has already passed its prime so as of this writing all that is left is their wabi sabi leaves, helping to create that tapestry of beauty. Their distinct three-toothed leaflets resemble strawberry leaves and the stems they grow from are thorn less, making this a friendly fruit to pick.
The UAF Cooperative Extension Service flyer states that "The name of the berry comes from goon, a word in Tlingit that means “jewel.” Tlingit elders say the berries are like little jewels popping up from the ground."
On the other hand wild raspberries are abundant in certain areas of the Copper Basin. The leaves are similar to nagoonberry but more elongated. Unlike their cousin, the nagoonberry, they like to grow tall. But they are also huggers, hugging anything in their growing space, including you! Proceed with caution when picking as their canes are covered in little thorns that will grab your shirt or skin if you are not careful! Their dull red color hides lots of seeds. If you don't mind getting seeds between your teeth these are very delicious just to munch on. Also great on ice cream, in pies, jams, jellies, juiced - you get the picture. This year the plants were full of berries and maybe the hot weather had something to do with it.
From my light to yours-
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WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.
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