Have You Tasted a Haskap? Or Even Seen One in Real Life?
I was originally attracted to the plant because it is incredibly cold hardy. It’ll survive down to -46 C and even the spring blooms can sustain a temps down to -8 C. Perfect for cultivation in the Great White North!
The flavour is fantastic. I’ve heard comparisons to black raspberry, wild blueberry, wine grape, elderberry, rhubarb, black currant, and even grapefruit from fans trying to nail down the taste. The fact is that different varieties do have different flavour profiles and you could very well pop one in your mouth and have a splash of citrus greet your tastebuds.
They’re easier to grow than more common berries like blueberries and raspberries, and live a long time. There are plants in Russia that have been fruiting for over 150 years, but the typical timeline of a haskap is 30-40 years. Ancient in comparison to a strawberry plant that taps out after a short few years.
So what gives? Why don’t we find these amazing berries in our local grocery or even farmers market? I suspect that farmers are reluctant to take the leap into an unproven market. Until they take off in the mainstream, we home growers will continue to forge ahead, make pies, jams, juices, and spread the word like we’re spreading delicious haskap jam... thick.
“Haskap” is from the Japanese “Haskappu” (little presents at the end of branches) and is commonly used in Canada. In the US and UK it’s known as a “honeyberry.” In Quebec, home to the majority of Canada’s production, it’s called the “camerise.”
While some Lonicera caerulea are native to North America, the tasty ones are derived from Russian and Japanese varieties. That said, many popular varieties have been developed in Canada and the US. Down south of the border, Lidia Delafield used the expertise she developed as a plant scientist in Russia, where the haskap is ubiquitous, to launch a tissue culture-based growing program in Arkansas called Berries Unlimited. Under her direction, the team has developed more than a dozen varieties, winning awards for superior flavour. On this side of the border, Dr. Bob Bors at the University of Saskatchewan released the Borealis in 2007 and his program has been adding edible varieties ever since.
There was a first wave of experimentation with native haskaps in Canada in the 1920s by French immigrants Georges and Julia Bugnet. They arrived in Canada in 1904, and settled on a homestead in the middle of Alberta the following year. Although the Bugnet’s haskaps weren’t very tasty and therefore never caught on, they spent decades cross-pollinating native and other northern climate species, developing successes like the Therese Bugnet rose which is still sought after to this day. They also managed to have nine children and homestead in Alberta for 50 years. Oh, and we can’t forget the four novels Georges published.
If you’ve got a spare hour or so, I highly recommend doing some research into the Bugnets––they are an inspiring duo.