This morning I saw a robin standing in the garden, with his wings on his hips and head cocked, surveying my haskap bushes. That’s how I can tell the berries are getting ripe. And that is exciting time – because these delicious, healthy, “super berries” are darlings of local growers, foodies and politicians. In this little corner of the world, a great deal of hope is placed on these blue, funky, oblong little fruits.
But, what IS a Haskap, anyway?
Also know as the Honeyberry, they are native to Japan and Russia, and are a member of the honeysuckle family or genus species Lonicera. The ancient Ainue people of Japan knew them as “fruit of long life and good eyesight.” Or as my father says, “if you eat these, you’ll live forever!!”.
That’s a lot of pressure for a little berry.
The Haskap is up for the challenge, apparently. According to research conducted through the Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture, these little beauties contain high levels of anthocyanins, Vitamin C, Potassium, Phenolic compounds and other antioxidants. In fact, the claim is they have 3 times the antioxidants of the wild blueberry and that nutritionally, they exceed the benefits of the pomegranate.
The best thing is they grow really well in my garden. That is the other part of what makes the Haskap a super berry, locally. They are ideally suited to the growing conditions of Nova Scotia. Native to latitude 40-55 they are at home here (we are about lat. 45) and comfortable in growing zones 2-8, they are hardy enough to withstand our winters. Todate, I have nine 4-year old plants which are in full production this year. Last year I picked up another 6 1-year old plants. We are struggling with the decision as to whether or not to convert several acres of otherwise unused field into a haskap farm. We would not be alone, if we took up this challenge. There is a lot of encouragement locally to grow haskaps.
I don’t think “you’ll live forever”, but I can tell you that they are tastey! I’ve read various descriptions, but to my palete , they taste like a cross between the blueberry and the cranberry. I’m sure they’d be delicious in a pie, but I haven’t tried that yet. They do make an amazing juice, and dried berry. I’ve tried them in jellies, chutney, flavouring ice-cream, maple syrup and chocolates. 5-stars all around!! The folks at Haskapa have been busy developing all of these…… and are just about to launch their latest offer: the world’s first haskap gin!! I’ll be very interested in try that!! There is also a lot of chatter about the potential hascap wine……..
If you are like me, you must be asking “if these are so amazing, why haven’t we heard of these plants before?” I really can’t answer that. I caught wind of them for the first time about 4 years ago. Around that time, some local folks who were starting up a forestry business and looking for new products to enhance their enterprise as they waited for the trees to grow, stumbled upon the hascap. They gave them a try and were amazed by the results. Since then, they have been preaching the benefits and developing very popular value-added products. If you are interested in reading about their story and the haskap, it’s here: LaHave Natural Farms.
The little robin might be planning his harvest, but I’m a step ahead of him with some bird netting. I checked the Brix (sugar content) today and mine are reading about brix 12 and we want them to be above 15 to be really ripe for picking. So, just like the robin, we will have to wait a couple more weeks before we can enjoy them.