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Can You Do Anything With the Berries From a Hackberry Tree?

Hackberry trees (Celtis occidentalis) belong to the elm family. They commonly grow across the Great Plains and in the Eastern United States. While hackberry trees grow well in bottomlands and tolerate occasional flooding, they also tolerate very dry conditions and compacted soils, making them a good choice for urban settings. The trees are resistant to storm damage and offer a hard wood that burns slowly.

The Fruits

The trees produce fruit at approximately 8 to 9 years of age, or when they reach maturity, according to the North Dakota State University Extension; however, the trees are rarely planted for their fruits. Hackberry fruits somewhat resemble cherries; the fruits are drupes, with a thin fleshy pulp covering a stone. They grow on a long stem and turn purple when they ripen. These small, pea-sized berries ripen in the fall, usually between September and October, and have many uses.

Historical Uses

According to the Menu Magazine website, hackberry fruit consumption dates back to the time of Homo Erectus: "Finds at Chou-K'ou-tien in China, dated back to 500,000 B.C., have included evidence of hackberry fruits." A long list of Native American tribes ate both fresh and dried hackberries, included them in recipes, mixed them with fat for a trail food, powdered them to season meat and processed them to make jelly.

Modern Uses

With a flavor likened to that of a raisin or a plum, hackberries are used to make wine and jelly. The berries are substituted in recipes where you would use a similar berry, such as in making breads or sauces. The berries may be dried and crushed into a powder for use as a spice. To process the berries for use, simply wash, rinse and sort them as you would any other type of berry. When using them for human consumption, you must first remove the pit within the fruit.

As Wildlife Feed

Hackberries provide a food source for a wide variety of birds and wildlife, including game birds and opossum. The fruits persist throughout the winter if they aren't harvested, offering a long-term source of food for creatures during tough seasons. Spiny hackberry (Celtis ehrenbergiana), also called desert hackberry, grows as a shrub on the Edwards Plateau in Texas and develops small, yellowish-orange fruits that feed and provide moisture for wildlife from game birds to coyotes, rabbits and raccoons.

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