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Thimbleberry Facts and Picking Tips
Thimbleberry Facts and Picking Tips
Thimbleberries ((Rubus parviflorus) are a berry, similar to a raspberry
but smaller, with smaller and with more numerous druplets.
Like raspberries, thimbleberries are eaten raw, or cooked and made into
jam or jelly and other food items, like muffins, cobblers, etc.
They are more tart than raspberries, but are also red when ripe.
Where to find thimbleberries
Thimbleberries are native to Alaska, the western U.S. upper Midwest, and
portions of Canada. See the map at right from the U.S.D.A. U.S. Forest
Service. Just like raspberries, they are found in the wild in shady,
moist areas, and have stems that are similar. You'll also find
them alongside roads, by stream banks, growing on fences, trees,
telephone poles, and in the woods.
How to recognize Thimbleberry plants
While the berry looks much like a raspberry, the plants look more like a
wild grape vine than a raspberry. The stem is woody, like a grapevine,
and equally thornless, and their leaf is a 5 lobed leaf that looks much
more like a grape leaf.
When are Thimbleberries available?
Thimbleberries produce flowers in June and July, so the berries ripen
continuously from late June through August but only a few ripe berries
are usually present on any present on any given bush at any one time.
Thimbleberries are a very healthy food;
packed with anthocyanins!
About 1/3 lb of thimbleberries make one eight-ounce jar of jam (using sugar
as the sweetener)
Thimbleberries contain more vitamin C than oranges, are super high in
have a good amount of folic acid, are high in potassium, vitamin A and
Select plump, firm, fully thimbleberries. Unripe berries will not
ripen once picked.
Thimbleberries belong to a large group of fruits known as brambles, such as
blackberries, in the plant genus Rubus.
Bumblebees, honeybees, and other wild bees love to visit brambles.
- Do the math and be careful not to over-pick as berries quickly
mold when left at room temperature, and only last a couple of days in the
- You can easily freeze berries that you cannot use right away - just
wash, cut the hulls off and pop them into a ziplock bag, removing as much
air as possible. Those vacuum food sealers REALLY do a good job of this!
The berries will keep for many months frozen without air.
- I am not aware of any Thimbleberry festivals, but if you want to go to a raspberry festival,
See this page for a list!
Before you go to pick:
If it is a farm, always call before you go to the farm to be sure they are
available. If it is in a state or national forest, call the local
ranger office to be sure that you may pick, learn of any local hazards
(flash floods, poison ivy, bugs, etc.) and ask if they know when they
early. Much nicer picking in the cool of the morning.!
Bring your own containers, but remember that heaping thimbleberries more than
5 inches deep will bruise the lower berries.
Plastic dishpans, metal oven pans with 3 inch tall sides and large
pots make good containers. I like the Glad storage containers like the one
something to drink and a few snacks; you'd be surprised how you can work up
a thirst and appetite! And don't forget hats and sunscreen for the sun. Bugs
usually aren't a problem, but some deet might be good to bring along if it
has been rainy.
Tips on how to pick thimbleberries
- A ripe thimbleberry is deep color with a
plump, soft but firm feel. It will pull free from the plant with only a slight tug. The
center will remain on the plant. Keep in mind, thimbleberries come in many
colors: red, yellow, black, purple, so you want to pick the darker shade of
whichever it is.
- Pick only the berries that are fully ripe. Reach in between the stems to
grab for hidden berries ready for harvest. Bend down and look up into the
plant and you'll find loads of berries that other people missed!
- I find it helps to hold the stem with one hand, while picking with the
- Repeat these
operations using both hands until each holds 3 or 4 berries. Repeat the picking process with both hands.
- Don't overfill
your containers or try to pack the berries down. Ideally, the collection
containers should be wide so the berries aren't more than a few deep.
- Pick berries into a shallow container. If they get piled too
deep they'll crush each other.
Avoid placing the picked berries in the sunlight any longer than necessary.
It is better to put them in the shade of a tree or shed than in the car
trunk or on the car seat. Cool them as soon as possible after picking.
When you get home
wash the berries until you are ready to use them or freeze them. Washing
makes them more prone to spoiling.
DO refrigerate! Right after picking, place raspberries in
the fridge. If your fridge tends to dry out produce, lightly cover the
Thimbleberries don't store for very long, usually just a few days. The reason
the ones from the grocery store last longer is they are covered with
- Pour them out into shallow pans and remove any mushed, soft or rotting
- Put a couple of days supply into the fridge, wash off the others, drain
them and freeze them up! (Unless you're going to make jam right away)
raspberries are less perishable than blueberries or strawberries, but
refrigerate them as soon as possible after picking. Temperatures between 34
F and 38 F are best, but, be careful not to freeze the raspberries (while
they are in the fridge)!
- Even under ideal conditions raspberries will only keep for a week in a
refrigerator, so for best flavor and texture, use them as soon as possible
- See this page for
illustrated freezing instructions.
Thimbleberries cook up just like raspberries, so these raspberry recipes will
work fine! One difference is that thimbleberries usually contain high
amounts of natural pectin, so you should be able to cut the amount of
pectin in half or even eliminate it. Since this is a wild crop,
which can vary a lot, it is trial and error.
- Now, get ready to make thimbleberry jam - It is VERY easy - especially
with our free
directions - very easy! or for a jam with a little kick, try
- And if you want to freeze them to use later, see my
How to freeze berries
- You can also make your own
- See this page for an easy recipe to make
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About raspberries
- How to freeze thimbleberries?
First, rinse them in cold
water. I use a large bowl filled with water, pour the berries in, and
gently stir them with my fingers to dislodge any dirt or bugs. Then using
my fingers like a sieve, I scoop the raspberries out of the water, and put
them in a drainer to let the water drain off. Then I just pour the berries
into a Ziploc bags or vacuum sealer bags and pop them in the freezer. After
they are frozen, I remove as much air from the bag as possible and seal the
See this page for
illustrated freezing instructions.
- II have picked my thimbleberries and have seen little worms. Not sure if
these are fruit flies that have laid eggs in them - or if they are grubs. I
picked some out than froze the berries. I have heard that cold will kill
them or drawn them out. If I make jam the cooked way (not freezer jam) and
some of the grubs/worms are left will it hurt people? I would like to
believe I got them all but fear I did not.
Answer: That sounds like SWD, spotted wing drosophila, the grub or larval form
of a fly. Typically, they are about 1/4-inch long. Soaking for an hour or
more in salt water (1 cup of slat to the gallon), may help draw them out. Cold would
probably kill them, but leave them inside the fruit. I don't imagine
they would be harmful if cooked into jam... but I doubt anyone would ask for
seconds if they found one. Eeeewwwwww!
- See this page about Spotted Wind Drosophila, identification and controls
U.S. Forestry Service
The business of Thimbleberry jam in Michigan
US Agricultural Census
University of Minnesota Extension
University of Illinois Extension
USDA Ag census Fruits, Tree Nuts, and Berries
USDA - search USDA raspberries
NC State University Extension
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