July is a Berry Good Time for Nature's Candy

Have you ever had the pleasure of picking berries right from a garden or gathering wild berries in the woods? Berries, with all of their natural, juicy sweetness and beautiful gem-toned colors, are truly gifts from nature. They’re gorgeous and bursting with sweet, earthy flavor. So make haste, as now is the time of year to head out with your basket and sun hat to gather the season’s treasures.

If you don’t have time for the pickin’ or don’t want to risk getting pricked by the gooseberry shrub, another way to get your berries fresh, juicy and at their peak of ripeness is from your local organic farmers’ market or a pick-your-own berry farm. Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are the most common in our neck of the woods and are proudly displayed front and center at the markets, just waiting to be taken home and gobbled up. Make sure you choose berries that are firm, plump and free of mold; raspberries are so fragile that they turn to pulp if simply held in a hand too long.

I recently had the pleasure of an all-day berry picking adventure at Natura Farms, and while my friend Farmer Paul was pretty adamant that strawberry season was nearly over, I walked away with a flat full of these ruby reds, and there were plenty more for the taking. According to the Minnesota Grown What’s in Season Chart, fortunately, blueberries are in season in Minnesota through August and raspberries will be around through July, take a break in August, and make an encore in September. Minnesota Grown also has a snazzy blueberry and summer raspberry farm directory to help you plan your trip.

Naturally Sweet Treats
The most popular berries are naturally sweet, and it doesn’t require much effort to make them into a delicious treat. Ripe, freshly-harvested berries make the best smoothies, shakes and shortcakes, and for those of you willing to fire up the oven this time of year, you know how delicious fresh berry pies, crisps and cobblers are. One of my favorite summertime treats is fresh strawberries or raspberries (or both!), roasted nuts, and a touch of whole organic cream. I’d take this nutritious treat over a bowl of ice cream any day. 

Berries can also enhance the flavor of any meal, as they can be added into your morning breakfast cereal and whole grain pancake mix, tossed into salads, pureed into dressings and cooked with sauces. They provide beautiful color, a touch of sweetness and add unexpected zest to your dishes.

Get Goosed
My favorite berry’s season is sadly drawing to a close, but the gooseberry shrubs at Natura Farms were weighted down with these tart members of the currant family and I plan to hightail it back there this week. Gooseberries have a flavor all their own and are a tasty if tart treasure that not too many folks are familiar with (probably why they were far from picked over). They grow on a deciduous shrub and are typically green but can be shades of deep red or purple. I wouldn’t recommend eating them alone, as the tartness will surely leave you pucker-faced.

I grew up eating gooseberries and recently introduced a houseful of guests to one of my favorite all time desserts, gooseberry pie (recipe below). With Cedar Summit ice cream, of course. Afraid to try a tart pie? Everyone loved it! (References provided upon request.)

Powerful Defense
Berries are much more nutritious than many people realize and an ever-increasing amount of research is being done to prove just how important they are for warding off disease, especially cancer. Generally, berries are bursting with vitamins and disease-fighting compounds and not only are they powerful in cleansing and strengthening the blood, but they are also very densely packed with a variety of potent phytochemicals that can do wonders for normalizing and improving health. Phytochemicals are critical for providing natural protection against cancer, degenerative diseases and environmental toxicity.

Berries may also fight cancer and heart disease by increasing levels of flavonoids in the blood. Flavonoids are found in certain fruits and vegetables and are thought to fight the cell-damaging effects of oxidation. Oxidation causes the formation of free radicals, or unstable molecules, which are the prime causes of diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and immune system suppression.

According to Christine Sardo of Canyon Ranch Institute, who previously managed clinical trials on berry consumption and cancer prevention for Ohio State University’s College of Medicine, “We are promoting the concept of ‘fruitraceuticals’ as opposed to pharmaceuticals for cancer, and emphasizing prevention versus treatment.” Gary D. Stoner is professor emeritus and former head of the Cancer Prevention Program at Ohio State University. He was quoted in a New York Times article, The Power of Berries, as stating, “We think for the average American, probably the consumption of three to four helpings of berries every week is a good thing. We know berries have so many effects on processes related to cancer development. They are one of the food stuffs you probably should consider consuming every day, or at least a few times a week.”

Preserve Your Jewels
If the thought of making it through the fall and winter without your reds and blues leaves you bewildered, freeze them. Berries freeze very well and there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that you hand-selected your berries and preserved them for the non-growing season. Speaking of preserving, making berry preserves is also a great way to keep your bread slathered with homemade jam through the winter. For you beginners (like me), here are some websites to get you going:

University of Minnesota Extension - Use good ingredients, methods when preserving foods

Fresh Preserving

Canning Pantry

Also, the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis is also offering a food preservation class on August 17: Basics of Home Canning: Safety First

So, before summer is over, get out there and gather your share of the season’s beautiful berries. The more you incorporate them into your everyday meals and snacks, the more you’ll be enjoying your foods and warding off potential disease, as these colorful nuggets are truly one of nature’s wonders.


  • High in iron
  • Alkalinizing to the blood
  • Astringent properties
  • Build liver and kidneys
  • Regulate menstrual cycle
  • Support optimal hormonal patterns during pregnancy
  • Ease childbirth
  • Treat impotence
  • Improve visual acuity


  • Very high in Vitamin C
  • Cooling
  • Strengthen spleen
  • Strengthen pancreas
  • Improve appetite
  • Generate bodily fluids
  • Treat sore throat
  • Strengthen digestion
  • Strengthen teeth and gums – removes tartar
  • Tranquilizing
  • Break down liver toxins
  • Antiviral


  • Cooling
  • Strengthen pancreas
  • Stabilize blood sugar
  • Support eye function
  • High in manganese and Vitamin A
  • Lower blood sugar for diabetics


  • High in vitamin C
  • Good source of vitamin A, calcium, iron and phosphorus
  • Good for respiratory disorders
  • Fortify the liver
  • Strengthen teeth and nails
  • Antifungal
  • Enhance fertility


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My Grandma’s Gooseberry Pie (with adaptations)

1 organic egg

1 cup date sugar

3 cups gooseberries

1/3 cup whole grain flour

1/4 cup coconut sugar/sap

1/4 cup grass-fed butter

Beat egg, add sugars, flour, butter and berries. Place in crust, cover with top crust if desired, and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until crust is brown.

Note: The date sugar and coconut sap (healthful alternatives to processed, white sugar) make the mixture very dough-like, so I dig my hands in and knead it like dough. These two natural sweeteners still make a delicious if dense pie.


Jill Grunewald is a Minneapolis-based Certified Holistic Health Counselor, health writer, and passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture. After fumbling through a career in architecture, she graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in 2006. Her practice, Healthful Elements, focuses on bio-individual health and whole-foods therapy, with specialization in the endocrine system and hormones, particularly thyroid and adrenal health. She loves tractors, Frye boots, her Mom’s pie, classical piano, bluegrass, mid-century furniture, tea, co-ops, great design, clean sheets, and bacon. Her last post for Simple, Good and Tasty was Minnesota Cooks at the State Fair.