There are some wild PEI plants that never make it to my kitchen. Not because I never find enough of them, but because they’re so darn tasty I can’t help but eat them in the field, as-is. This is one of those: Black Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata).
Huckleberry is a member of the Blueberry Family (Ericaceae), and can be found in the same types of acidic habitats. I typically find them around the edges of bogs and in Black Spruce (Picea mariana) woods. Those habitats are more common in eastern and western PEI, and so I find Huckleberries far more often in Prince and Kings Counties.
The common name “Huckleberry” is sometimes applied to other, edible members of the Blueberry Family especially in western Canada and down in the States. “Huckleberries” sold commercially are almost always varieties of Blueberry (Vaccinium species). The fruits are very similar, but true Huckleberries have larger, crunchy seeds rather than the small, barely noticeable seeds of Blueberries. And, in my opinion, Huckleberry flavour is far superior!
In addition to being sweet and delicious, Huckleberries are good for you. Like many dark-coloured fruits, Huckleberries are rich in anti-oxidants. They are also high in Vitamins A, B complex, and C as well as iron and potassium. But don’t confuse them for other dark berries that are ripe at the same time (late summer to early fall). Black Chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa) can sometimes be found growing alongside Huckleberries; they are edible, but sour. Chokeberry leaves have a sharp point at the tip, unlike the rounded tips of Huckleberry leaves.
More importantly, the inedible Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) and European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) are both sporting their dark berries now. Both plants were historically used for their laxative and purgative effects - probably not what you are looking for in wild food! Both have shiny leaves with prominent veins, and berries without the star-shaped “crown” of Huckleberries (similar to that seen on Blueberries). If in doubt, send me a photo and I’ll identify what you have.
Huckleberry is a nutritious, delicious, and very cool native PEI plant!