Every year, about the middle of June, I think I have stepped into a scene from Alfred Hitchock’s “The Birds”. Swarms of Cedar Wax Wings gather in the trees surrounding the garden and descend on mass into the berry bushes. Their object? The haskap berries.
Hascap berries have been resident in my garden since my son brought them back from Saskatchewan about seven years ago. I had never tasted them. The Cedar Wax Wings always got to them first.
This year, determined to find out what I was missing, I invested in some bird netting and had my very first taste of haskaps. Turns out, I have been missing a lot.
Haskaps, which are dark blue and cylindrical, have a really funky flavour – something between a grape and a black current with a touch of elderberry thrown in.
They are loaded polyphenols and anthocyanins, even more than blueberries, green tea and coffee. These antioxidants help prevent heart disease, cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative disease.
The phenolic content in this berry is directly associated with its colour and flavour. The skin of red grapes for example is also very high in antioxidants, but most varieties of red grapes have white flesh. Haskaps are a red colour all the way through, so antioxidants are found in their flesh as well as their skin.
They could very well become the next superfood.
Native to Russian and northern Japan, where they are know as “the fruit of longevity and vision”, haskaps were first introduced to this country about 20 years ago as part of a plant breeding program at the University of Saskatchewan. They are now found in most provinces across Canada.
The berries can be used in jams, juice and condiments and according to Bob Bors, the Saskatchewan breeder who introduced them to this country, they make a wine more like a grape wine than any other fruit.
Haskaps also make a very attractive garden shrub. They are easy to grow and have creamy-coloured unscented flowers. They are very polite. Unlike raspberries and cherries, they do not produce suckers so they will not take over a garden and spread.
I have made jelly from my haskaps and frozen some to put in my morning smoothies. The rest I am leaving for the Cedar Wax Wings. After all, they found them first.