The Ktunaxa word for serviceberry or saskatoon berry is squ’mu. The berry holds a significant place in history across Canada and in the Columbia Valley. First Nations people used the berry for sustenance for centuries, mixing with dried meat to make pemmican. The fruit was also formed into cakes that were dried in the sun and stored. Further using the bushes resources, the long straight shoots at the base of the bush could be fashioned into arrows or pipe stems.
Foraging for saskatoons is easy and rewarding. The berries are ripe now. The berry grows on shrubs and bushes that can be as tall as twenty feet. They are found along back roads and beside the wetlands and benches of the Columbia River.
The bush is easy to identify. In early June the tree is covered with white blossoms. In July the sweet juicy berry ripens to reddish to dark purple and has a crown on the fruits.
The taste can vary from tree to tree from bland, to sweet, or sour. If you don’t like the taste try another bush. I think they taste their best when not quite fully ripe.
Explorer, fur trader and mapmaker, David Thompson referenced service berries often throughout his travels. In July of 1807, on finding himself and his party at the mouth of what is now called Windermere Lake, and very hungry, he surely must have looked to the berries as an important resource.
Squ’mu are easy to collect in quantity if the animals don’t beat you to them. Woodpeckers, grouse, blackbirds, thrushes, robins and bears all love them.
The berries make wonderful jams and pies and can be frozen and thawed in winter for a treat over ice cream or eaten at breakfast.
While outdoors, walking, enjoying the sun, keep an eye out for wild berries. Nothing can be more organic than fruit that has grown wild for thousands of years.