Saskatoon berries (Amelanchier alnifolia) look much like blueberries, though they are more closely related to the apple family. Many would describe the taste of saskatoon as having a sweet, nutty almond flavor. They are also high in fiber, protein and antioxidants. Berries ripen in late June or early July. They are also available throughout the year when frozen. They grow in many conditions, from sea level to mountain peaks, and are less picky about soils conditions than blueberries. Like their apple cousins, saskatoons continue to ripen after they are picked. Fully mature berries are sweeter and have a fuller fruit flavor, but are softer and more easily damaged. Saskatoon bushes are a deciduous shrub or small tree that can reach 16 ft in height. The mature bushes sport white flowers each spring. Saskatoons are native to North America, growing wild from Alaska to Maine. In the northern lower peninsula of Michigan there are currently over 20 commercial growers that have 50 to 10,000 plants each. We are currently working on a survey of operations in several other states and the Canadian provinces.
Saskatoon berries have a variety of names throughout North America, including: prairie berry, serviceberry, shadbush, juneberry and, in past centuries, pigeon berry. The saskatoon name is reportedly an anglicization from the Cree language word misâskwatômina (Mis-sack-qua-too-mina), which means “the fruit of the tree of many branches”. This Cree word is also the source of the city name Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which is located on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. These names are also used for some similar varieties of berries and also for ornamental plants. Edible varieties sold by our members include: Thiessen, JB-30, Northline, Martin, and Smoky.
Saskatoon berries appear to be an excellent source of manganese, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, copper and carotene. Saskatoon berries are considered a better source of calcium than red meats, vegetables and cereals. Recent research indicates saskatoons have very high components of phenolics, flavonols and anthocyanins. Saskatoons are high in natural sugar, rich in Vitamin C, and also contain more than three times as much iron and copper in the same weight as raisins. Saskatoon Nutrients: The Journal of Food Science – Volume 47 1982 Dr. G. Mazza
Nutrients in raw saskatoon berries: Nutrient Value per 100 grams % Daily Value Energy 85 kcal Total dietary fiber 5.9 g 20% Sugars, total 11.4 g 8% Calcium, Ca 42 mg 4% Magnesium, Mg 24 mg 6% Iron, Fe 1 mg 12% Manganese, Mn 1.4 mg 70% Potassium, K 162 mg 3% Sodium, Na 0.5 mg 0% Vitamin C 3.6 mg 4% Vitamin A, IU 11 IU 1% Vitamin E 1.1 mg 7% Folate, mcg 4.6 mcg 1% Thiamine 4% Riboflavin 3.5 mg Vitamin B6 2% Panthothenic acid 0.3 mg Phosphorus 2% Magnesium 10% Zinc 2% Manganese 70% Chloride 2% Pyridoxine 0.03 mg 2% Biotin 20 mcg 67%
Mazza G (2005). Compositional and functional properties of saskatoon berry and blueberry. Int. J. Fruit Sci. 5 (3):99-118 with some additions. The intense purple color of saskatoon berries is due to the presence of pigments called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins (from two Greek words meaning “plant” and “blue”) are part of a large and widespread group of plant constituents known as flavonoids. Flavonoid compounds have been attributed to provide health benefits against chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration. The deep color of saskatoon berries suggest that this fruit should contain high levels of anthocyanins and antioxidant activity similar to blueberries. Source: Amie Hydamaska, Department of Food Science, Faculty of Agricultural & Food Sciences, University of Manitoba – Winnipeg, MB, Canada – R3T 2N2 Quercetin, cyanidin, delphinidin, pelargonidin, petunidin, peonidin, and malvidin were polyphenols present in saskatoon berries. Particularly for saskatoon phenolics, inhibition of cyclo-oxygenase enzymes involved in mechanisms of inflammation and pain have been demonstrated in vitro. The following chart compares the nutritional benefits of saskatoons compared to some other common berries.
Antioxidant rich fruits reportedly have anti-cancer, anti-aging, and anti-heart disease effects on human body, reducing cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, and acting as a protective guard to our immune systems.
The ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value is one of the methods used to measure the total antioxidant activity in fruit. In the tables below the ORAC values show saskatoon berries are naturally high in antioxidants and rank highest in both fresh fruit and in fruit pulp relative to other common fruits.
Research evidence shows that antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of cancers. Ozga, J. A., Saeed, A. and Reinecke, D. M. (2006). Anthocyanins and nutrient components of saskatoon fruits (Amelanchier alnifolia Nutt.). Can. J. Plant Sci. 86: 193-197. and U. Nothlings, S.P. Murphy, L.R. Wilkens, B.E. Henderson and L.N. Kolonel. Flavonols and Pancreatic Cancer Risk-The Multiethnic Cohort Study. American Journal of Epidemiology; V 166,8: 924-931
Studies also showed that there are potential anticarcinogenic activity of anthocyanins in fruits and fruit products, and anthocyanins may possess multifaceted actions including antioxidation and anticarinigenesis, and may have inhibitory effects on colon carcinogenesis. C. Hu, B.H.L. Kwok, D.D Kitts. (2005). Saskatoon berries (Amelanchier alnifolia Nutt.) scavenge free radicals and inhibit intracellular oxidation. Food Research international 38: 1079-1085.
Anthocyanins, antioxidant pigments from fruit and vegetables, have a “significant potency” against fat cells and could be used for the prevention of weight gain, suggests a new study from Japan. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry Volume 56, Number 3, Pages 642-646
Saskatoons are delightful right off the bush. Historically they were used in pemmican and as a medicine for quite a variety of illnesses.
Today saskatoons are commonly used in pies, tarts, scones, muffins, bread, coffee cake, jams, compote, sauces, salad dressing, trail mix and other snack foods. They can also be used in wine, cider and a variety of liquors. The picture, below shows saskatoons on the top and bottom layers of a classic English Trifle. Saskatoons can be consumed fresh, or preserved in frozen, dried, or canned form.
Where Can I Buy Plants?
Whether you are a backyard hobbyist or a professional farm, or anything in between, you can purchase plants. See our Directory for Nursery contact information.
How to Grow
Young plants are generally planted with 12-18 feet between rows and 3 feet between plants (the latter for mechanical harvesting). Roots need at least 24 inches of depth. The bushes are shade tolerant, though yields may increase with greater sunlight. Recommended planting density is 700-1700 per Acre (900 per acre for mechanical harvesting). These hardy bushes can bear fruit for 30 years or more. Some varieties bear fruit for up to 70 years.
Saskatoons can be planted in the fall to promote root growth or in the spring to avoid winter weather. If choosing the spring, plant before the plant emerges from dormancy. Prune only dead, damaged or diseased stems within the first three years. Thereafter, prune to allow good light penetration and air movement, with the goal of replacing all the fruiting wood every 3-4 years. The best fruit production usually occurs on vigorous 2 to 4 year-old stems.
Drip irrigation is preferred to reduce foliar diseases. They prefer, but do not require, full sun. When possible, shelter plants from frequent and prolonged winds, especially during the winter.
Young plants need paper writer to be weeded, especially for invasive, rhizomatous weeds, for best results. Non-invasive, perennial grass or grass mix between rows offers many benefits, but keep grass short enough that it does not go to seed, and keep grass of out of crop rows.
These plants are winter hardy, as evidenced by their success in Alaska and Saskatchewan. However, beware of frost damage to blossoms as late as May.
While saskatoons are largely forgiving of soil conditions, they seem to prefer sandy loam. They do not do well in poorly drained or heavy clay soils. They do best in pH values between 5.5-7.0, but are known to grow in a much broader pH spectrum. Saskatoons are not as pH finicky as blueberries. Compost can be helpful also, but has (in some cases) provided winter protection for mice. Ground cover between rows, such as grass (kept short so it doesn’t go to seed), can be helpful in keeping weeds down, which is especially important for smaller plants, and can also reduce erosion.
Saskatoons commonly have their first harvest in year 3. Yields, with proper management, can be 3.5 – 4.5 tons per acre. Saskatoons generally require at least 100 frost-free days to produce mature fruit. Yield will be greater if berries are protected from birds, rabbits and deer. A general rule for harvesting is to pick when about 2/3 of the berries are fully ripe, discarding damaged, overripe or green fruit. To avoid damage, pick and store in containers with depths of 6″ or less. Refrigerate fruit quickly to keep it from spoiling. Berries can be washed, but should be fully dry before refrigerating or freezing.
Pest and Disease Management
Some growers prefer fencing to avoid loss to deer. Rabbits and mice have also been reported. Grasshoppers can damage leaves and the bark of smaller stems. One farm, that had a fence around their saskatoons, found that turkeys do a great job of reducing the grasshopper population. One grower reported that, after the fall freeze, spraying the trunks with an Irish Spring soap solution (2 bars, shaved, diluted with 1-2 qts hot water, then mixed with 4 gallons of water), seemed to deter mice and rabbits from chewing on the bark. While some general suggestions appear above, many growers will seek more information. Guidelines vary by state and province. We suggest that you check with your County Extension Office or nearest agricultural college. You are also welcome to contact Erwin ‘Duke’ Elsner, Michigan State University Extenstion Small Fruit Educator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.