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Saskatoons and Juneberries - What They Are, Where to Get Them and How to Use Them!

saskatoonsIf you live in western Canada or the far northern areas of the U.S (mostly  in the Northeast U.S., Great Lakes region and the northwest)., you may have heard of Saskatoons, which are also called Juneberries or Serviceberries. Juneberries grow wild across the northern U.S. and Canada. We will use the terms interchangeably. The saskatoon cultivar (variety) is now being grown commercially in Michigan and Canada. The commercial variety is a product of 30 years of breeding in Canada.

Saskatoons and Juneberries look much like a blueberry but  are dark purple with an apple-like taste. Which makes sense because the saskatoon is a distant relative of the apple. Others say they taste like sweet black cherries or a mild blackberry.  They have soft, tiny (and completely edible) seeds, which some say, give them an almond like taste, too.

Western Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) range mapVarieties of Saskatoons / Juneberries

There are two primary species

  1. Amelanchier alnifolia, which is a commercial high-yielding species native to western Canada and the northwest US (see the map at right) and
  2. Amelanchier canadensis which is the wild shrub found in the Eastern US. (no map)

Picking tips:

Select plump, full saskatoons with a dark-blue purple color. A berry with any hint of light red isn't fully ripened. White and green colored saskatoons will not ripen after they are picked; while saskatoons that have already turned purple, red or blue-ish usually DO ripen after they are picked (if they are kept at room temperature to ripen).

Since saskatoons hang on the bushes in bunches a but like grapes do, the easiest and fastest way to pick them is hold your bucket under them in one hand and with your other hand, cup a ripe bunch and gently rub them with your fingers.  The ripe berries will drop into your bucket, while the unripe ones will remain attached to the bush. I can easily pick 2 gallons per hour (if I'm not being distracted by the kids and the sun isn't too hot!).  A newbie might do 1 gallon per hour.

Tips for storing Saskatoons after harvesting:BUL866 Growing Saskatoons in the Inland Northwest and Intermountain West

  • Once picked, don't place the berries, still warm from the sun, in a closed bag or container. Leave the container open so moisture doesn't form in the container.
  • Don't wash berries until just before using, to prevent berries from becoming mushy.
  • Chill berries soon after picking to increase shelf life. Store your fresh saskatoons in the refrigerator as soon as you get them home, without washing them, in a covered bowl or storage container. If refrigerated, fresh-picked saskatoons will keep 10 to 14 days.
  • Freeze berries in freezer containers without washing to keep the skins from toughening.  Place berries one layer deep. Freeze, then pour the frozen berries into freezer containers. Because unwashed saskatoons freeze individually, they can be easily poured from containers in desired amounts. Remember both frozen and fresh berries should be rinsed and drained just before serving. Just before using, wash the berries in cold water.

Nutritional value of Saskatoons

Saskatoons/ Juneberries / Serviceberries are 18 % sugar, and about 80% water, which is a lower moisture content than blueberries.  They are nutrient-dense, with high levels of protein, calcium, iron, and antioxidants. Juneberries are an excellent source of iron (almost twice as much iron as blueberries), relatively large amounts of potassium (twice as much as blueberries); large amounts of  magnesium and phosphorous and high levels of phenolic compounds, anthocyanins.

Nutrients in raw saskatoon berries
from Mazza, G. (2005). "Compositional and Functional Properties of Saskatoon Berry and Blueberry"
Nutrient Value per 100 g  % Daily Value
Energy 85 kcal
Total dietary fiber 5.9 g 20%
Sugars, total 11.4 g 8%
Calcium 42 mg 4%
Magnesium 24 mg 6%
Iron 1 mg 12%
Manganese 1.4 mg 70%
Potassium 162 mg 3%
Sodium 0.5 mg 0%
Vitamin C 3.6 mg 4%
Vitamin A 11 IU 1%
Vitamin E 1.1 mg 7%
Folate 4.6 µg 1%
Riboflavin 3.5 mg > 100%
Panthothenic acid 0.3 mg 6%
Pyridoxine 0.03 mg 2%
Biotin 20 µg 67%

Saskatoon berries contain significant amounts of total dietary fiber, vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and biotin, and the essential minerals, iron and manganese, a nutrient profile similar to the content of blueberries. For more information, see this page on Cornell University's website.

Other Saskatoon Facts

The word Saskatoon comes from the Cree word "Mis-sask-quah-toomina" which sounded like "Saskatoon" to non-natives.

Growing Saskatoons

Saskatoons are a shrub-like bush which can grow as tall as 10 feet in height. The Saskatoon is a member of the apple family and is very hardy. The Saskatoon thrives in cold, dry weather. The harvest season typically starts in late June and ends in early July in most of the northern US and southern Canada. See these articles

Cooking, Canning and Preserving Saskatoons

 If you're looking for great, easy to follow recipes to make jam, jelly, freeze or make saskatoon pie from Saksatoons / Juneberries, see these pages: