What Are Saskatoon Berries?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 07, 2022
5 min read

Saskatoon berries are delicious fruits that look like smaller blueberries. You can eat them fresh or in a variety of recipes. They're rich in antioxidants and other nutrients that are good for your health.

Read on to learn more about saskatoon berries and how to add them to your diet.

Saskatoon berries are juicy, berrylike fruits that grow on shrubs or small trees. They're also called serviceberries, prairie berries, juneberries, and shadbush, depending on where they grow. 

The saskatoon berry plant belongs to the rose family Rosaceae. Its botanical name is Amelanchier alnifolia. It's a woody, perennial shrub that lives for more than two years. The saskatoon plant gets its name from the word “misâskwatômina,” pronounced as mis-sack-qua-too-mina, from the Canadian language Cree. It means “the fruit of the tree with many branches”.

Saskatoon plants grow 1 to 5 meters tall. The plant has simple, round leaves that have jagged teeth at the top. It bears white or pinkish flowers with five petals, which grow in early May to June. 

Saskatoon berries appear in June or July. They are round, reddish-purple, deep blue, or black fleshy fruits. Saskatoon berries are not exactly berries. They are pomes or fleshy fruits that contain many seeds in the middle. They're more closely related to apples, hawthorns, and mountain ash berries than other berries.

Saskatoon berry plants are fruit crops that can adapt to different soil types and climates. They particularly thrive in sandy prairie soils and can withstand both high and low temperatures. Saskatoon berries are native to North America, including the Northwestern and North Central U.S., Alaska, the Canadian Prairies, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and British Columbia.

Saskatoon berry farming has expanded from North America to European countries like Finland, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

Saskatoon berries are rich in nutrients. A 100-gram portion of saskatoon berries contains the following:

  • 84.85 calories
  • 1.33 grams of protein
  • 0.49 grams of fats
  • 18.48 grams of carbohydrates
  • 5.93 grams of dietary fiber
  • 11.36 grams of sugars

Saskatoon berries contain vitamin A, vitamin B6 and B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, folate, and biotin. They're also a great source of minerals. They contain phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, sodium, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, and copper. They have twice the amount of vitamin C and seven times the amount of calcium in blueberries

Saskatoon berries get their vivid color from antioxidant flavonoids like beta-carotene and anthocyanins, which are good for health.

Saskatoon berry health benefits include:

Antioxidant effects. Saskatoon berries are packed with antioxidants. These are nutrients that hunt and destroy harmful molecules called free radicals. Free radicals can damage your cells and increase your risk of developing illnesses and inflammation. Saskatoon berry extracts have polyphenols or flavonoids like anthocyanins. They protect your cells, prevent the oxidation of fats in your blood vessels, regulate fat breakdown, and prevent DNA damage.

Anti-inflammatory effects. Anthocyanins found in saskatoon berries prevent fat oxidation and help prevent blockages in your blood vessels or atherosclerosis. They help keep your heart and liver healthy. They also regulate your immune system and prevent the production of inflammatory molecules, which can cause cell damage and progress into diseases.

Anticancer effects. Saskatoon berry extracts contain types of anthocyanin called cyanidin-3-glucoside and delphinidin-3-glucoside. These antioxidant compounds reduce cancer growth, prevent angiogenesis or the formation of blood vessels around cancer cells, and protect cells from aging. Research shows that saskatoon berry extracts can be effective against male and female reproductive cancers and liver cancer.

Gut health effects. Saskatoon berries can be great for gut health. Your gut contains millions of good bacteria that aid digestion, immunity, and so on. They play a role in preventing conditions like obesity, diabetes, and inflammation. A study in mice showed that saskatoon berry powder could help improve the count of the bacteria in the gut, promote well-being, and protect the body from inflammatory conditions.

Antidiabetic effects. Native American tribes in North America used Saskatoon berries to treat diabetes. Evidence suggests that bioactive ingredients like polyphenols in saskatoon berries regulate glucose metabolism. They increase sugar storage in the body and help control blood sugar levels. So, eating saskatoon berries can help treat and prevent diabetes.

Ripe, deep blue or purple saskatoon berries are fresh and juicy. They taste earthy, sweet, tangy, or acidic. Different types or cultivars of saskatoon berries may vary in taste depending on their location and when you harvest them. To enjoy their full flavor, eat or preserve them soon after harvest. They tend to lose their taste quickly after picking.

Buy saskatoon berries and products. Saskatoon berries are available during their peak season in June or July. You can buy them directly from orchards, farmer's markets, or supermarkets. Look for plump, ripe, bluish-purple berries with a sweet and earthy flavor. Ensure that there are no green-colored or squashed berries in the packet.

Because the berries taste best after harvest, producers often sell the berries to factories that make saskatoon berry products. Commercially available saskatoon products include frozen berries, dried berries, jams, syrups, and baked goods. You can find frozen saskatoon berries at most grocery or food stores throughout the year.

Pick saskatoon berries. If you want to pick your own saskatoon berries, here are some tips:

  • Pick saskatoon berries early in the morning during hot weather to get the best flavor.
  • Make sure that they're slightly less ripe because they continue to ripen even after picking. 
  • Avoid picking overripe or mushy berries. 
  • Eat the berries immediately after picking them for full flavor. 
  • If you don’t eat them, process or freeze the picked berries quickly to preserve their flavor and use them later. 

Store saskatoon berries. After picking saskatoon berries, wash and sort them. Remove the stems and leaves, and get rid of the soft, overripe, or damaged ones. Rinse the sorted berries in cool water, drain them, and let them dry on a paper towel. You can store fresh berries in the refrigerator for about five days.

To freeze saskatoon berries, spread the cleaned, dry berries on a cookie sheet. Put them in the freezer for more than four hours. After they freeze evenly, place them in a container or freezer bag and put them in the freezer again. Frozen berries can last up to a year in the freezer. But make sure you use vacuum-sealed bags for storage to maintain their quality.

Saskatoon berries recipes. You can have fresh or dried saskatoon berries. You can also use them with their leaves to make tea. 

Enjoy fresh or frozen saskatoon berries with some sweet cream or ice cream. You can also dry them and make fruit leather. To enjoy their flavor throughout the year, turn them into jams, jellies, syrups, wine, or liqueurs. Add them to desserts and baked food. Saskatoon berry pies, muffins, and bannock are delicious baked treats that you can make and enjoy.