Lesser-known berries profitable pick for producers
Raspberries, blackberries and strawberries may dominate Ohio's berries, but growers and consumers may be missing out on the market and health potential of other berry types.
Dick Funt, an Ohio State University Extension small fruit specialist, said that lesser-known berries, such as currants, gooseberries and elderberries, grow just as well under Ohio's conditions and boast numerous health benefits.
"There is an untapped market in Ohio for growing these kinds of berries," said Funt, adding that the existing market for such berries is very limited. "Growers and consumers just may not be familiar enough with them to take advantage of the opportunities that are here to grow and market the crops."
Like other berries, currants, gooseberries and elderberries require a large initial investment to get started and several years of growth before the plants produce any fruit for market. But plants like the elderberry have the potential to produce a bumper crop.
"By age five, an elderberry plant can reach six to seven feet tall and produce 50 pounds of berries. If you use a pound or two per pie, that's a lot of pies," Funt said.
Maintenance, such as pruning and irrigation, also is similar to other berry types and the plants are plagued little by pests and diseases. "Caring for the plants is not that hard and the disease impact is minimal," Funt said. "And we know the plants are hardy. They do well here in Ohio's cold climate."
For consumers, currants, gooseberries and elderberries are healthy eating. For centuries the berries have been touted for a variety of health benefits.
Elderberries and the flowers the elderberry tree produces possess medicinal value in treating coughs, colds, asthma and influenza and have been used to treat those illnesses since the 5th century B.C. The fruit also is a good source of vitamins A, B and C. In addition, the elderberry has been used to treat burns, rashes and other skin ailments and slows sweat-inducing and diuretic effects.
The fruit comes from the elderberry tree, which is native to Ohio and surrounding states. It is not uncommon for people to pick the berries of the wild elderberry and use the fruit to make jams and pies. People also eat the berries fresh.
Gooseberries and currants have long been European favorites and are used extensively in cooking, as well as eaten fresh.
The American gooseberry is native to Ohio and other states throughout the northeastern and north-central United States. Gooseberries have certain nutritional properties that help lower cholesterol. Gooseberries also are rich in vitamins A, B and C. They are used primarily in preserves, pastries and other desserts.
Currants also are high in vitamins A, B and C. Black currants contain four times as much vitamin C as citrus fruits. They are mainly used in jams, syrups and juices because of their strong flavor.
Funt said that the addition of elderberries or gooseberries to the existing berry market, mainly in a pick-your-own setting, would provide continued economic viability while providing alternative fruits to health-conscious consumers.
"People are looking for unique experiences, and agri-tourism is one outlet," Funt said. "Adding on to the berry market is just one way of supporting rural economies, while providing consumers the benefits of fresh berries and the experience of the countryside at the same time."