Crowberries, Vancouver Island, BC
Crowberries, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

The further north you go, the lower in elevation the crowberries can be found, in Alaska you will find them at sea level, here on Vancouver Island you have to get up above 1000 meters to find them, with that said, I can say that they are quite abundant and easy to find on our island mountains. You will usually find the black huckleberry growing in the same area, and they are pretty awesome to eat as well. I will hike up in Strathcona park to find crowberries as it’s easy-going on well-maintained paths and the berries are in abundance. It is typically found in bogs, heaths, barrens, and on rocky outcrops that can be found along the boardwalks on the plateau.

Crowberries, Vancouver Island, BC
Crowberries, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

The crowberry grows like a ground cover and barely gets taller than 20 cm. They will form mats and is a heather-like plant, it is prickly to the touch and the stems are covered by needle-like spines. The berries are black when ripe and each has a prominent dimple on the bottom. The berries start out red at first but ripen to a nice black color, they ripen late fall and can be found under the snow, you can pick them right through the fall and winter, but wait for the first frost before the first picking, they sweeten up after a good chill. Up north there are crowberries that ripen in the summer.

A lot of folks will say that you should cook them for a better taste and that they are not so good fresh, I totally disagree with this. I love the taste of the fresh berry and will stop to devour them when I find them.

Unripe Crowberries, Vancouver Island, BC
Unripe Crowberries, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Lo0gan

You can use the stems to make braided rope, this rope is surprisingly strong. The crowberry fruit can be eaten raw. I find that the flavor improves after a frost or being frozen. The Inuit and Cree believe that fruit that had spent the winter under the snow was incredibly delicious. The fruit can also be used to dye furs and to make a vitamin-rich beverage.

An interesting fact about the crowberry is that it produces a toxin that fights the growth of other plants. The leaves of the crowberry have small glands that produce batatasin III. When the leaves die and fall to the ground, they slowly break down, releasing the toxin. This toxin has the power to stop other species from growing, this is why when you find them, they form dense mats of growth.

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