When planning your garden or homestead, don't overlook edible berries from trees! Several tree berries are edible for humans and wildlife alike. The berries on this list can be eaten raw or cooked in various preparations — often excelling at both.
Incorporating these trees into a perennial garden or permaculture food forest offers a range of benefits: nutritious and tasty fruits, attractive foliage, and a habitat for wildlife. Each tree has unique requirements and benefits, making it essential for gardeners to choose the right tree for their specific climate and soil conditions.
With the right care, these trees can provide a bountiful harvest of berries for many years. And for the most part, these trees require very little inputs. A little mulch to suppress weeds and provide other benefits, and the right growing location in your garden.
Elderberries (Sambucus spp.)
Elderberry Trees are more akin to large shrubs, usually growing 5 to 12 feet tall. Preferring moist, well-drained soil and partial to full sun, they are a top choice for many gardeners due to their reported medicinal properties. While elderberries are not safe to eat raw due to toxicity, they transform into something delicious for syrups, wines, jams, and desserts when cooked. Heed the warnings on toxicity; my husband unknowingly ingested a number of them raw once and spent a few hours vomiting.
Hawthorn Trees (Crataegus spp.)
Hawthorn trees are known for their small, apple-like fruits called haws, which are usually red when ripe but can also be black or yellow depending on the species. These trees typically grow to a manageable size of 15 to 30 feet, making them suitable for various garden sizes. They are hardy and adaptable, thriving in most soil types and in both full sun and partial shade.
The haws can be eaten raw, although they are somewhat tart and grainy, and are more commonly used in jams, jellies, and syrups. They're also used in traditional medicines, particularly for heart-related conditions. In addition to their edible and medicinal uses, hawthorn trees are valued for their ornamental qualities, with beautiful white flowers in spring and vibrant foliage in the fall. Don't eat the seeds; like apples, they contain cyanide.
Serviceberry Tree (Amelanchier spp.)
Serviceberry trees are renowned for their adaptability and modest size, generally reaching 15 to 25 feet in height. They can tolerate both moist and dry soil conditions and grow well in partial to full sun. The berries, which ripen by early summer, are similar to blueberries in taste and can be enjoyed raw. They are also perfect for making pies and jams. Besides their fruit, these trees are valued for their ornamental qualities, with beautiful spring blossoms and attractive fall foliage.
Rowan or Mountain Ash berries (Sorbus aucuparia)
The Rowan Tree, thriving in cooler climates, typically grows to a height of 15 to 30 feet. It prefers well-drained soil and full sun. The bright orange-red berries are quite bitter when raw and are more commonly used in cooked forms like jellies and jams, which help to mitigate their tartness. This tree is not only valued for its fruit but also for its ornamental appeal.
Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)
Cornelian Cherry Trees can grow up to 20 to 25 feet and are notable for their tolerance to cold temperatures and preference for well-drained soil. The cherry-like fruits, which are tart in flavor, are not commonly eaten raw due to their sourness but are excellent in preserves, syrups, and even savory dishes.
Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo)
Despite its name, the fruit of the Strawberry Tree is not related to the common strawberry; instead, it's a unique type of berry that's native to the Mediterranean region and parts of Western Europe, particularly Ireland.
The Strawberry Tree is a small evergreen tree or large shrub, typically growing to about 15 to 30 feet in height. It's known for its attractive features: bell-shaped white or pink flowers and round, red fruits that resemble strawberries. These fruits take about a year to mature and ripen, often resulting in the tree carrying both flowers and fruits simultaneously.
The berries of the Strawberry Tree are edible, with a texture and flavor that's described as somewhat bland but sweet, and slightly gritty. They can be eaten raw, but are more commonly used in making jams, jellies, liqueurs, and even in baking. In some regions, they're also used to make a type of brandy.
The Strawberry Tree is suitable for planting in USDA hardiness zones 7 through 10 in North America. This range covers areas where the climate is generally mild, without extreme cold in winter. You can also grow it in pots and bring it indoors in winter in colder regions.
Mulberry (Morus spp.)
The Mulberry Tree is an excellent choice for gardeners looking for a fast-growing and fruitful tree. Typically reaching heights of 30 to 50 feet, these trees can start producing sweet, juicy berries within just a few years of planting.
They are well-suited to a variety of climates, thriving in full sun and well-drained soil. Mulberries can be eaten raw, offering a flavor that's a lovely mix of sweetness and tartness, reminiscent of blackberries. They're widely used in culinary applications, including jams, pies, and wines. Gardeners should consider their placement carefully, as the falling berries can stain walkways and vehicles.
If you have free-ranging chickens and ducks, they will love the fallen fruit!
Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)
Sea Buckthorn is known for its bright orange, nutrient-rich berries that are small but densely packed on the branches. These berries are highly valued for their high vitamin C content, along with other vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds.
The Sea Buckthorn tree is a hardy, deciduous shrub or small tree that can grow up to 6-18 feet tall, depending on the conditions. It's well-suited to harsh climates and poor soils, making it an excellent choice for challenging growing environments. The tree is also used for soil conservation and landscaping due to its extensive root system and attractive appearance.
Sea Buckthorn berries have a tart, tangy flavor and are often used in various products such as juices, jams, and nutritional supplements. They can be eaten raw, but their tartness often makes them more popular in processed forms. The berries are also used in skincare products due to their high concentration of beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants.
Chokeberry Tree (Aronia spp.)
The Chokeberry Tree, reaching a height of 3 to 6 feet, is a resilient addition to any garden. It's adaptable to various soil types and resistant to most pests and diseases. The berries, known for their high antioxidant content, have a tart flavor and are often sweetened in recipes or used in health supplements. They can be eaten raw but are typically preferred in cooked forms like jams, jellies, or juice. This tree is also a favorite among birds and wildlife.
Hackberry (Celtis spp.)
Hackberry Trees are large, sturdy trees, capable of reaching 40 to 60 feet in height. They are highly adaptable and drought-resistant, making them suitable for various landscapes. The berries are small, sweet, and can be consumed raw. Caches of hackberries have been found in ancient human cave sites. It is no wonder that early people were eating hackberries. They're also popular for making jams and jellies. Additionally, these trees provide substantial ecological benefits, attracting birds and serving as a food source for wildlife.
Huckleberry Trees vary in size, often categorized as small to medium-sized trees. They grow best in acidic, well-drained soil, and can adapt to both partial shade and full sun. The berries, similar to blueberries but usually less sweet, can be eaten raw and are a delicious addition to pancakes, muffins, and jams.
Juniper Berry (Juniperus)
Juniper berries are not true berries in the botanical sense. They are actually considered to be "cones" — more specifically, female seed cones. What sets them apart from typical cones of other coniferous trees is their unusually fleshy and merged scales, which give them a berry-like appearance.
So, Juniper is making its way on this list even though I left off cherries, which most people would associate with berries (cherries are not berries).
I use dried juniper berries frequently in my kitchen, and they're very expensive to buy but easy to forage or grow, and we have them growing on the homestead.
These pseudo-berries are most famous for their use in flavoring gin. However, they have various culinary uses, such as in seasoning game meats, sauces, and in some traditional European cuisines. It's important to note that not all juniper berries are edible; some species can be toxic. For example, the berries of Juniperus sabina are toxic and should not be consumed.
In terms of their growth habits, juniper plants can range from low ground-covering shrubs to tall trees, depending on the species. They are generally hardy and can grow in a variety of climates and soil types, making them versatile for landscaping purposes.
Assessing Your Landscape & Garden Space
When selecting berry-producing trees for your garden, start by assessing the available space. Large gardens can accommodate expansive trees like the Hackberry, while smaller areas are better suited for compact varieties such as Aronia. The size of your garden will influence not just the tree you choose but also how it impacts the rest of your space over time.
Soil conditions are another key factor. Some trees prefer rich, moist soil, whereas others, like the Sea Buckthorn, are more forgiving and can tolerate less fertile conditions. Conducting a soil test can guide you in choosing trees that will thrive in your garden’s specific soil type.
Sunlight is crucial for healthy berry production. Most trees need plenty of sun, but if your garden has areas of partial shade, consider trees like the Huckleberry that are more adaptable to varying light conditions.
And consider the full height of the trees — will they shade out other areas of your garden where you're growing sun-loving plants?
Don't Overthink It — Plant The Tree!
Water needs vary among different tree species. Aligning the water requirements of the tree with your local climate and your gardening capabilities will promote better growth and fruiting. Something like the back to Eden gardening method (a variant of no-till gardening) reduces or eliminates watering needs.
Beyond fruit production, these trees contribute to the overall ecosystem of your garden. They provide shade, improve soil health, and attract birds and pollinators. A diverse selection can create a balanced and sustainable garden environment rooted in permaculture principles.
A thoughtful approach considering space, soil, sunlight, water needs, and ecological impact will guide you in choosing the right trees for a productive and vibrant garden.
But overthink it either — our biggest homesteading mistake was not getting more trees and other perennials planted promptly. Trees require time!