Thimbleberry – Rubus parviflorus

 

Often characterized as the “toilet paper plant,” this berry shrub is so much more than using it’s giant leaves as a convenient source of toilet paper. The thimbleberry plant, like many other berry shrubs, has many properties and uses both as food and medicine. Out of all of the berry shrubs in the Rubus genus, the thimbleberry is one of the few that isn’t covered in thorns, making it an enjoyable meal for many of our animal and pollinator relatives!

 

The most widely enjoyed part of the thimbleberry is the fruit itself. The fruit is a delicate and juicy berry that has both a sour and sweet taste. The berries are high in vitamins A and C, and are a great fruit for making jam because of their high levels of pectin. It’s a perfect berry for syrups, jams, pemmican, or simply dried as a treat. The delicate characteristic of the fruit doesn’t make commercializing them easy, but wild thimbleberry populations should be managed respectfully and not over-harvested. If you happen to find a thimbleberry patch, be mindful of how much of its berries, leaves, or shoots that you harvest.

 

Similar to salmonberry, young thimbleberry shoots can be eaten in the springtime and have a texture that is like asparagus. Then, when the leaves are large enough, they can be dried, powdered and used as a poultice to treat wounds and burns, or they can be made into a tea as a blood cleanser to treat anemia, and they can be used as a quick way to carry the berries you harvest! These are only some of the ways that thimbleberry can be practically or medicinally used, and many uses of this soft plant vary from tribe to tribe across North America.

 

The range of the thimbleberry’s habitat is large and covers much of Alaska, British Colombia, Ontario, and extends from the west coast of America all the way states like Minnesota and Wisconsin. The thimbleberry is a soft and delicate plant, but its growth is resilient in areas that have been recently disturbed or logged. Within a season its growth can return to a disturbed area and eventually take over the area, sometimes even preventing trees from growing back.

 

However, when subjected to higher temperatures such as wildfires and heat waves, the thimbleberry plant can struggle to reestablish itself in its usual habitats. These factors make thimbleberry shrubs more vulnerable to our planet’s changing climate, which makes the rarity of this plant more likely as well. The thimbleberry’s properties such as its unforgettable taste, its cheery and soft growth, and even its convenient use as toilet paper can not be overlooked. The thimbleberry is one of many important plants in the understory of forests that must be protected from extractive industries that destroy its home.

 

To learn more about this delicate but strong berry plant, and its home environment, follow the links below.

USDA PLANTS Database

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USDA – Rubus parviflorus
The PLANTS Database provides standardized information about the vascular plants, mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens of the U.S. and its territories. It includes names, plant symbols, checklists, distributional data, species abstracts, characteristics, images, crop information, automated tools, onward Web links, and references. This information primarily promotes land conservation in the United States and its territories, but academic, educational, and general use is encouraged.

USDA, NRCS. 2021. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 08/06/2021). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC USA.

USDA Fire Effects Information System (FEIS)

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USDA FEIS – Rubus parviflorus
The Fire Effects Information System is an online collection of reviews of the scientific literature about fire effects on plants and animals and about fire regimes of plant communities in the United States. FEIS reviews are based on thorough literature searches, often supplemented with insights from field scientists and managers. FEIS provides reviews that are efficient to use, thoroughly documented, and defensible. Approximately 15 to 30 new or revised reviews are published in FEIS each year.

Native American Ethnobotany Database

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NAEB Text Search – thimbleberry
A database of plants used as drugs, foods, dyes, fibers, and more, by native Peoples of North America.

Lushootseed Pronunciation

 

Lushootseed Language Vocabulary provided by the Snoqualmie Tribe Culture Department.