Where would we be without the Amelanchier alnifolia?

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Saskatoon season was coming into full swing last week, and reports suggest it’s going to be a pretty good year for the popular berry. Somebody suggested a story might be in order, so here goes:

The saskatoon is just one of many members of the genus Amelanchier. It’s called Amelanchier alnifolia, to be precise. Its common name is derived from the Cree, which the Wikipedia article depicts as misâskwatômin.

The range of the alnifolia, our beloved saskatoon, is a big chunk of western Canada, including most of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and reaching northwestwards through southern parts of the Northwest Territory and Yukon and into a bit of Alaska. South of the 49th parallel, it extends in two arms; the eastern one covers the Dakotas, mostly, and the western one in Washington, Oregon and parts of Idaho and Montana.

As you’d expect the Saskatoon has lots of other names, some of them probably local or regional. They include Pacific serviceberry, western serviceberry, alder-leaf (that’s what ‘alnifolia’ means in Latin) shadbush, dwarf shadbush, chuckley pear, western juneberry and pigeon berry.

Further afield, the relatives of the saskatoon occur over much of North America. A lot of these varieties have some form of the name serviceberry, or shadbush.

And the most common uses? Around here jam is one, along with the always-popular saskatoon pie. We have heard of Saskatoon wine as well. Not to mention the traditional use in pemmican. Does anybody make pemmican anymore? Christopher ‘Ian’ Gladue might be the one to give it a try. He makes a type of dried meat called Pânsâwân in Edmonton, and his mobile food business is called Native Delights. Gladue is a Bigstone member from the Wabasca area. He hadn’t gotten back to us by press time.

Dog Island Brewing of Slave Lake has been known to flavour one of its beers with saskatoons.

Of course where there are abundant ripe saskatoons there will also be black bears. If you come across a patch of saskatoon bushes all knocked down or otherwise roughly disturbed, a bear was probably the cause.

Saskatoons, ripe and ready for picking at an unspecified location near Slave Lake last week.

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