Amelanchier alnifolia – Saskatoon, June-berry, Serviceberry
Saskatoon, June-berry, Serviceberry – Amelanchier alnifolia
Amelanchier = a-me-lan-kee-er, from the Provençal name of A. ovalis snowy-mespilus;
alnifolia = “alder-like leaved”;
Identification: This shrub or small tree grows from 1-4 m tall, often spreading by stolons to form colonies. It has pretty white flowers which appear in June. The bark is smooth and grey to brown in colour. The alternate leaves are simple, elliptic to obovate, with serrate margins at the tips. The sweet, juicy berries resemble blueberries in appearance.
Distribution & Habitat: It is quite common in open woods at low elevations and/or along river banks.
Preparation & Uses: The berries make good jellies, preserves, pies and sauces. They can be dried or canned for winter. The dried berries were substituted for currants by early settlers and were added to pemmican by the Indians.
An interesting method of preserving these berries in dried cakes. The Indians made a large spruce bark tub of about 30 gallon capacity. Into the bottom of these tubs they placed about a peck of berries, and on top of the berries they placed red-hot stones, then more berries and more rocks until the tub was full. This combination was left for about 6 hours, until the berries were completely cooked. They were then crushed between the hands, spread upon splinters of wood, tied together and placed on a slow fire. The juice running off from a collecting tube was rubbed over the body. After 2 or 3 days of drying, the berries were in good condition to last for several years. In this dried cake state, the berry is a good addition to soups, puddings or vegetables.
Blackfoot Indians would drink saskatoon berry juice for an upset stomach. It is also a mild laxative. These Indians also made eye drops from immature berries. If these were not available, they would use dried berries. The boiled juice was also used for eardrops. Other Indians made an eye wash from the green, inner bark of saskatoon. The Chippewa boiled the cambium as a disinfectant wash. They used the root bark of a related species, A. canadensis, as a women s tonic to stop excessive menstrual bleeding. Thompson Indians used saskatoon berry bark in a decoction and drank it to help pass afterbirth, sometimes in addition to sitting in a sitz bath. An infusion of roots was drunk to prevent miscarriages.
The Blackfoot Indians also made a purple dye of this plant, calling it Oko-nok, whereas the Cree called the plant Saskatooniaktik, and used the stems for arrows and pipestems. The wood is quite hard and can be used to make various tools. Saskatoon played a major role in native ceremonies, especially in the Sun Dance which was held when the berries were ripe.