When is a berry not a berry?

Marigolds are called "the herb of the sun," originating with the Aztecs, who considered them sacred and used them as a medicine and as a ceremonial offering to the sun gods.

First of all, happy solstice!

Solstice, which occurs Saturday, June 20, at 5:44 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time, makes me think of the bright yellow marigolds blooming in containers by the front door.

Indeed, the marigold has long been associated with the sun. “The marigold abroad her leaves doth spread, because the sun and her power is the same,” wrote poet Henry Constable in a 1592 sonnet.

African marigolds, which are actually native to Mexico and Central America, were sacred to the Aztecs, who used them as a medicine and as a ceremonial offering to the sun gods. Marigolds are still called “the herb of the sun” because of this. 

Summer is also synonymous with salmonberries. You might recall that last summer was a banner year. Salmonberry-rhubarb jam, salmonberry pie, even salmonberry-horseradish sauce for halibut. Okay, I made that one up. Still, Kodiakans gorged on salmonberries.

This year, however, the jury’s still out. Pink salmonberry flowers seem to be abundant, but so are vast expanses of winter-killed stalks that won’t be producing this year.

Still, salmonberry plants generate mixed emotions. Some people scowl at them like the Kudzu of the North in their efforts to clear their yards for a better purpose, while others want to propagate them, no matter what.

Which reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with a lady who wanted to grow salmonberries in the worst way. She lived in Utah. 

I dove into research mode. Salmonberries are members of the rose family. They are distributed up and down the West Coast, from the Aleutians to northern California. But would they live in the arid lands of Utah?

In my searching, I discovered a few ways to propagate muck-a-muck, another name for salmonberries, according to Janice Schofield, author of “Discovering Wild Plants.”  



One source suggested taking cuttings, 4 to 8 inches long, in the fall as the plant goes dormant. Push the cuttings into potting soil or moist sand with two buds below the surface of the soil and two buds above. Keep the soil moist. Hopefully, by spring, root development will have begun. Don’t do anything at this point. Just leave the cuttings in place until fall when they can be set out into the garden.

Taking cuttings in the fall may or may not work, depending on how cold our winter ends up. My thought would be to root cuttings in fall and late winter, much like you’d do with red and black currants.



This method follows Mother Nature’s proven technique of spreading salmonberries hither and yon. You’ll see what I mean.

Layering is accomplished by bending a flexible branch down to the ground so that the tip and a few inches lay on top of the soil. Then secure the branch in place on the ground with U-shaped pieces of wire (like giant hairpins) pushed into the soil so the tip of the branch remains in contact with the soil. You can also place a branch, rock or piece of wood across the branch to secure it in place. When roots have developed (it may take a few months), trim off the rooted section and plant in a pot.



The method of propagating by seeds is similar to how one collects tomato seeds. Collect ripe berries and place them in a sieve. Squish, not crush, them by hand until the berries are pulverized. Put the pulp into a jar and fill with water. Allow the mixture to settle and then pour off the water. Viable (healthy) seeds should remain in the bottom of the jar.

So, when is a berry not a berry?

Salmonberries are considered true berries. But that’s not true for all common berries. Blueberries, for example, are true berries, because they are single fruits derived from the plant’s ovaries, according to Harold McGee, author of “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.”

Strawberries, on the other hand, are not true berries. Rather, they are multiple fruits that develop from many ovaries set in the same flower “receptacle.” As for salmonberries (and raspberries), each little segment is a complete fruit.

To celebrate the salmonberry’s trueness, here’s a recipe for fresh, salmonberry pie: 



Bake a 9-inch pie shell and cool to room temperature. Or make a no-bake crust from ginger snaps or graham crackers.

In a saucepan, mix 1/4  cup sugar and 1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch and a dash of salt. Slowly stir in 1/4 cup salmonberry juice. Mix well. Add 1-1/4 cup more juice and stir. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until clear and starting to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Arrange fresh berries in the pie shell and top with warm glaze. Chill at least 1 hour. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla yogurt.

Back to marigolds, the solstice flower. Did you know that for years, farmers included the open-pollinated African marigold “Crackerjack” in chicken feed to make egg yolks a darker yellow?

And in the late 1960s, Burpee president David Burpee launched an energetic campaign to have marigolds named the national flower, but in the end, the rose won out.



• Keep hanging baskets and containers evenly watered. Turn them occasionally to encourage even growth.

• Sow another crop of Chinese cabbage, lettuce, Swiss chard, cress, spinach and cilantro. 

• Make rhubarb sauce. Eat some, freeze some and dry some as fruit leather.

• After cutting the grass, mix clippings with dried leaves to begin a compost pile.

• Enjoy a few quiet, calm moments in the garden.


Get Marion’s free Photo Tips PDF, a collection of her favorite photography tips, on her blog at MarionOwenAlaska.com. Connect with Marion: Facebook and Instagram or send an email to Marion at mygarden@alaska.net.

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