Native serviceberry trees (Amelanchier) abound throughout North America. During their trek across the continent in the early 1800s, Meriweather Lewis, William Clark and other members of their expedition feasted on serviceberry and other native berries, often as guests of indigenous peoples, and recorded these encounters in their journals.
Friday August 2cd 1805.
we met with great quantities of currants today, two species of which were red, others yellow, deep perple and black; also black goosberries and serviceberries now ripe and in great perfection. we feasted sumptuously on our wild fruits, particularly the yellow currant and the deep perple serviceberries, which I found to be excellent. the serviceberry grows on a small bush and differs from ours only in colour size and superior excellence of it’s flavour. it is somewhat larger than ours.Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Tuesday August 13th 1805, with the Lemhi Shoshone people:
after the cerimony of the pipe was over I distributed the remainder of the small articles I had brought with me among the women and children. by this time it was late in the evening and we had not taisted any food since the evening before. the Chief informed us that they had nothing but berries to eat and gave us some cakes of serviceberries and Choke cherries which had been dryed in the sun; of these I made a hearty meal, and then walked to the river, which I found about 40 yards wide very rapid clear and about 3 feet deep.Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
John Ordway, expedition member
September 4th Wednesday 1805, with the Salish people:
Saw fresh Sign of Indians. proceeded on down this valley towards evening we arived at a large encampment of the flat head [Salish] nation of Indians about 40 lodges and I Suppose about 30 persons, and they have between 4 or 5 hundred horses now feeding in the plains… they received us in a friendly manner. when our officers went to their lodges they gave them each a white robe of dressed skins, and spread them over their Shoulders and put their arms around our necks instead of Shakeing hands as that is their way … they Smoaked with us, then gave us a pleanty Such as they had to eat, which was only Servis berrys and cheeries pounded and dryed in Small cakes. Some roots of different kinds.Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
In these anecdotes, serviceberries feature in shared meals with Salish and Lemhi Shohone nations, occasioning seemingly friendly interactions and mutual enjoyment of fruits indigenous to America. Of course, we only have notes from the white European expeditioners here, lacking firsthand perspectives from the Native peoples they encountered. Nevertheless, these encounters may reveal how the berries might have offered food security, being available when “nothing but berries” was.
Many Native American tribes use serviceberries and related berries in a variety of ways, such as food, medicine, or in ceremonial items. The Botanical Research Institute of Texas‘s Native American Ethnobotany Database provides comprehensive information about the uses of thousands of plants by hundreds of tribes. Read about serviceberry uses here.
Author: Tina Gianquitto