Saturday, May 25, 2024
May 25, 2024

‘Berry with benefits’ growing on Salt Spring 

By Marcia Jansen 

Have you heard of the haskap berry? No? You’re not alone. The ‘berry with benefits’ is brand new to British Columbia. Alex Ruurs from Hillfield Haskap Farm introduced the haskap berry on Salt Spring Island eight years ago and just started selling his haskap cordial in retail stores on the island.      

The haskap berry grows in the wild in every province in Canada, except for BC.  

“We are the last ones to be let in on the secret,” says Ruurs who started with thirty seedlings in 2016 and now has a thousand plants on his property at his farm at Sharp Road.    

Ruurs moved from Abbotsford to Salt Spring Island sixteen years ago.  

“I had access to all this land and was looking for a way to use it. I wanted to grow something healthy and local, with a potential for a side business,” Ruurs, who works as a sea captain as well, continues. “It had to be something that wasn’t too labour intensive, because I can be away for months at a time, and doesn’t need too much water.”    

When Ruurs read about the cold-hardy haskap berry variety bred by the fruit program at the University of Saskatchewan, he knew he’d found what he was looking for. Haskap berries, also called honey berries, come from varieties common to a circumpolar species native to northern boreal forests in Asia, Europe, and North America. “This particular variety stems from species in Siberia and Japan. Haskap means ‘little gift at the end of the branch’ in Japanese and is known as the fruit of longevity.”    

The haskap berry is a so-called super fruit. It is believed that haskap berries have been used in folk medicine to reduce the risk of hypertension, glaucoma, heart attack, anemia, osteoporosis, and gastrointestinal disease.  

“Studies show that haskap berries are rich in vitamin C and they contain substantially more antioxidants than any other berry.  But they’re not only healthy, they are extremely tasty as well. Haskap berries are juicy and sweet with a zing of vitamin C. They taste like a mix of blackberries, raspberries and black currents.”    

Haskap berries produce one of the earliest crops, compared to other berry varieties.  

“Even earlier than strawberries,” Ruurs explains.“We had our first full harvest last summer, experienced farmers probably need half of the time to establish an orchard, and we are looking forward to the next one in June.”    

Ruurs turns his haskap berries into a sweet and tangy cordial, which is now available on the island.  

“You can drink haskap cordial with sparkling water or mix it with alcoholic beverages like martini or gin and tonic. Because of the intense purple colour of the berry, not only the skin but the inside as well, you can use the cordial to make beautiful cocktails and mocktails.”   

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