Book Review

Wild Berries of the West

by Betty B. Derig and Margaret C. Fuller

Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, 2001. $16.00, 6" x 8" paperback, 235 pp.
ISBN 0-87842-433-4
Buy this book now from
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)

Reviewed by Kim E. Hummer (5/2002)

Derig and Fuller's Wild Berries of the West is a comfortable field guide to the commonly found berry-type fruits of western North America. This book assumes a challenging task, simultaneously combining a trio of objectives: to be a field guide, an ethnobotanical reference and a cookbook.

This book is fun to examine both for the botanically oriented and those who are not. A quick scan of any section provides botanical information with plant names, descriptions, edibility notes, historical uses, gardening tips and a photographic image of the plant in flower and fruit. Poisonous plants are clearly marked and plant uses by native peoples are included.

The book is arranged by plant families. From an identification standpoint this means that the reader must already know what the berry of interest is, or resort to randomly scanning the book to find the matching picture. The latter is a fun task, as previously mentioned, and in doing this the reader can pick up additional native lore about other plants. I am intrigued by several of the recipes presented in the book, such as "Bill's Juniper-Sauerkraut Casserole," and am eager to try them out this fruiting season.

The genera with which I am most familiar are adequately presented relative to the author's objective of including common berries. However, I can see room for a second edition that expands species and gives better representation to native American tribes. Oregon, for example, is thinly covered on page 212 by an inclusive statement of "Warm Springs Tribes." A second edition could enlarge the meager section listing native plant nurseries and replace out-of-focus images.

Now I'll be picky about a few technical details. In wild strawberries, a key character for species identification is the placement of the terminal tooth of the terminal leaflet. While the authors mention this in the text, the images they have chosen do not display this character very well (pp. 130-133). Most of the fruits of the golden currants, Ribes aureum, ripen black. Their text and image depicts an orange fruit (pp. 48-49). Although a few forms produce fruit that ripens orange, this is not typical for the species. While many ornamental crabapples from Europe are used as landscape plants, Oregon crabapples, Malus fusca, are not, despite the book's implication (p. 136).

Technical details aside, I recommend this book as a quick-and-ready reference to western North American berries. I'll place a copy on my plant field guide bookshelf for easy accessibility.

Kim Hummer is research leader and curator of the USDA-ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository at Corvallis, Oregon. Readers can e-mail her at
© Copyright 2002, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
Questions or comments? Contact us.