Wild Raisins Are a Forager's Delight
A wild raisin might sound like a shrivelled old grape you stumble across on the forest floor, but it’s not. It’s a whole plant! And it’s native to Ontario.
The wild raisin (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides) is similar to its viburnum cousin, the nannyberry, but distinct in a few ways. You can tell the difference based on the shape of the leaf, and the size of the drupe/seed. Not that it’s a huge deal since both are edible—this isn’t one of those plant identification nightmares where one type is delicious, the other spells certain death and there’s almost no way to tell them apart.
Wild raisin grows as a hardy shrub that can handle more challenging environments like shade and a little salt here and there. That’s why it’s used along roadways. It has a rounded shape and can grow up to 12 feet tall.
Visually the wild raisin has a lot to offer. Its blooms are big, white, and frothy-looking—like an elderflower or an 80s wedding dress. The leaves start out green and turn a deep burgundy through the fall. The berries are green, then ripen individually through a soft pink, vibrant pink, purple, blue, and eventually black. They’re ready for human consumption when they look dried out and wrinkly like a regular raisin.
While it’s not the number one top desired food of wildlife, birds and mammals will eat the wild raisin. It’s especially valued in the late fall and winter when most other fruit has withered and decayed. I love watching the rose-breasted grosbeaks going at it on the wild raisin bushes in the wintertime.
Like many native edibles, the wild raisin was traditionally used by Indigenous people in a number of ways, including medicinally. The bark could be used to make an antispasmodic infusion, as well as to lower fevers.
Nowadays it’s most popular in landscaping due to its hardiness and good looks. Municipalities will also take advantage of the rough and ready nature of the wild raisin in wilderness reclamation initiatives.
In my opinion the wild raisin should be embraced by home fruit growers too.
The novelty of having something to harvest in the winter can’t be overstated. Getting outside on a sunny day and collecting a bucket of wild raisins is a great motivator. Processing your bounty into a tasty preserve is a nice way to spend an evening when it’s cold and blustery outside.
The wildlife will thank you, unless you picked them all.