Are Hackberries Edible?
Not only is this an edible fruit, these pea-sized berries used to be a staple in Native American cuisine. Read on how to use the bounty from these magnificent trees. But first, let’s learn a little more about this useful berry.
Some Background Info
These trees are part of the Elm family (Ulmaceae). They are found in different regions of North America. The common variety is located throughout the eastern United States, though as shown above, one tree can also be found in desert areas.
This is a large, deciduous tree with a rounded crown. For this reason, it has been used as a shade tree in cities and urban areas. A characteristic of the tree is its corky or warty-looking gray bark. Some folklore suggests this was a witch’s tree because of this unique feature.
Hackberry leaves emerge in the spring. They have an ovate shape with serrated edges and it sports a rough texture. One feature about the leaves makes them very distinct. Some of them have small wart-like structures on the leaves similar to the bark. It’s no wonder they thought they were witches’ trees. Not sure why this tree has an affinity towards warts.
Mid to late spring, the flowers start blooming. In the late summer and early fall, these trees really start to shine when their female flowers develop into the small berries we know and love. They are dark purple and have a paper-thin sweet fruit, surrounding a single hard seed.
Some people are able to chew these seeds without modification, but I’m not keen on cracking a tooth, so I lean on other methods to grind them.
Some Common Species of Hackberry
- Celtis occidentalis: Common Names – Common hackberry, Northern hackberry
- Celtis laevigata: Common Names – Southern hackberry, Sugarberry tree, Netleaf hackberry, Sugar hackberry
- Celtis pallida: Common Names – Desert hackberry, Spiny hackberry, Nettle Tree
- Celtis tenuifolia: Common Names – Dwarf hackberry
- Fruit: Sweet and mild
- Seed: Gritty and not much flavor
The basic answer is you are going to want to at least cook the seed down or grind it up in some fashion to be able to use it in recipes. A mortar and pestle or coffee grinder works well for this.
Uses For Hackberries
As I mentioned previously, hackberries were an important source of food for native populations. It’s filled with healthy fats and a good source of protein. In northern sections of the United States, there is even the opportunity to harvest the berries from September through March provided wildlife doesn’t get to it first.
Let’s explore some of the ways you can use the fruit.
1. Hackberry Milk
This is number one on our list because it makes such a good candidate for nut milk. This is prepared similarly to how you would make homemade almond milk. Warm this drink with a sweetener like maple syrup or honey and maybe a dash of nutmeg, and you have yourself a cozy winter treat.
2. Oatmeal or porridge
Grind up this edible seed and you can make it into a porridge-like meal. Consume this in winter for a hearty breakfast that will fill you up.
3. Candy Bar
This option is like a fruit and nut bar. Take the ground hackberry and dried fruits like blueberry, another meaty nut like walnuts, and some maple syrup. Mix them together and you have a great trail bar or evening dessert.
4. Hackberry Pemmican
I will note that this is very much a survival food source. Many Native American tribes have their own variation on this, but essentially you grind up the hackberries, mix it with meat, fat, other berries, and potentially some form of carbohydrate like corn. And Voila! You have an all-in-one meal that will get you through winter.
5. Medicinal Purposes
Outside of the food options, hackberries were also used by Native Americans for medicinal reasons. They were used to solve everything from venereal diseases and aiding in menstrual cycles, to helping with sore throats.
Other Uses for Tree
Hackberry wood can be exceptionally useful in building furniture. It is often underrated by other varieties but is a wonderful hardwood while also having a flexible nature.
Grow Your Own Hackberry Tree
If you want a tree that is low maintenance, yet very hardy, this is the tree for you.
Where to Grow
Look for an area in your yard with full sun and moist, well-drained organically rich soil. This tree has an incredible ability to tolerate strong winds, poor soil, and dry conditions, though, which may mean you can grow the tree in your yard regardless of your soil.
Feed the Plant
Add some compost when you plant the tree and if it looks like it needs a little help in the future, you can add a bit more.
Provide enough water until the tree is established.
Even if you don’t get to harvest this tree in the Fall, it serves as a great feeding spot for wildlife. Bring out the binoculars! It also means you will have little fruits all over your yard. Something to think about when you are choosing your location.
I think we solved the mystery of whether or not hackberries are edible. Hopefully, you can take this newfound knowledge and experiment with your own food concoctions. Share any tasty recipes you discover!
If you were curious about hackberries, you may also be wondering if lotus flowers are edible. Random? I think not for a curious mind like yours. Find out about them in our article here!
We wish you all the best. Goodbye until next time!