Allegheny Serviceberry provides native local berries grown in the shade

Robins love ’em they feed the berries to their babies and invite cedar waxwings to eat; try Poppy Seed Serviceberry Bread

By Gregory Jackson


Allegheny Serviceberry, Amelanchier laevis, begins in the spring with white flowers pollinated by bees.  Northeast Ohio’s native berry taste between cherries and blueberries, if you don’t harvest the berries the songbirds will get them first.  I thought the robins would eat the berries higher up on the tree, but I see them eating berries lower down on the tree and feeding her nearly fully grown baby with berries, too.  While I was picking some a robin invited two cedar waxwings to dine on serviceberries.

I think it’s time I get a ladder and start taking their berries for my cereal.

The month of June provides little options for fresh, local berries, except serviceberries.  I was reminded about my Allegheny Serviceberry ready for harvest after hearing robins squeaking and chirping, acrobatically flapping through this small tree/large shrub, eating every berry, especially the ones vicariously hanging from thin branches.

Holden Arboretum, which recently merged with Cleveland Botanical Gardens, is working on the urban tree project in Northeast Ohio.  When I was speaking with Roger Gettig, director of horticulture and conservation at Holden Arboretum, he mentioned that urban farmers do not plant native fruit and nut bearing trees for local food.

I think that Amelanchier laevis (am-meh-LANG-kee-er LEE-viss), is an excellent native species providing spring blossoms for bees to pollinate, early summer fruit for us and the songbirds, and autumn red and yellow leaves.  I would enjoy helping Holden Arboretum and Cleveland Botanical Gardens restore urban areas with native trees that not only provide aesthetic, but also feed native wildlife and us.

Do you have a lot of shade in your yard and cannot seem to grow anything there?

Plant Allegheny Serviceberry.  It’s a native understory tree that will grow right up under a mature tree.  While mature serviceberries may reach 25 feet, mine is happily growing at 12 feet tall.  Serviceberries are rich in Vitamin C, iron, and copper.

Native Americans once used a recipe with serviceberry, dried and mixed with meat to make pemmican, a high energy food that helped their travels throughout winter and prevent scurvy, which occurs due to Vitamin C deficiency.  Having a mix of serviceberry and meat also provides a more efficient form of dietary copper and iron absorption.

Much research has also been done on iron deficiency (PDF).

Iron supports healthy red blood cell formation, but in iron deficiency an individual’s red blood cells are smaller, or characterized as microcytic and hypochromic.  Iron-dependent enzymes are not fully optimally functioning.  Copper is the other mineral found in serviceberries.

The body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a substance found in red blood cells.  There are two different types of dietary iron:  heme (derived from hemoglobin found in animals) and nonheme (iron from plants).

Copper is a necessary mineral that stores iron.  What’s unique about copper found in serviceberry is that the mineral is usually found in meats, seafood, nuts, seeds, cereals, and cocoa.  Copper deficiency is rare, but can occur in those who take too much zinc supplements in vitamins or those who have had intestinal bypass surgery.  Getting your copper is best in foods that contain them, not copper supplements.  Interestingly, vegetarians are more likely to develop zinc deficiency because plant-based foods that contain zinc contain organic acids like phytic and oxalic that bind zinc and calcium.  These acids, like nonheme iron, make it less efficient for the body to absorb.

Yet the presence of serviceberry, adding copper through a native and local fruit, as an ingredient to whole grain bread with poppy seeds may help the body absorb both minerals since copper is needed to catalyze zinc.


Poppy Seed Serviceberry Bread

1 9-inch loaf

2 cup of serviceberries

2 tablespoons of rum or cognac

3/4 cup Agave

2 cups of your favorite bread mix, any Bob’s Red Mill or Hodgson will work

3 teaspoons poppy seeds

Pinch of salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Zest a whole lemon with juice from half the lemon (you can save the other half for a summer drink)

3 eggs

½ cup sliced/or crushed almonds

1 – 9” x 5” x 3” non-stick loaf pan, buttered to prevent sticking


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  1. Place berries, liqueur, and a ¼ cup of agave in a medium bowl.  Stir well, set aside.

  1. Place bread 2 cups of your favorite bread mix, ¼ cup agave, baking powder, poppy seeds and salt in a medium bowl. Stir and set aside.
  2. In a separate mixing bowl add ¼ cup more of agave with a little bit of butter, lemon zest, and lemon juice and mix with an electric mixer. Beat at slow speed until creamy.  Increase speed to medium, adding one egg at a time.  Mix until smooth.  Then gently fold in bread mixture into the butter lemon mix you just made.  If batter is too thick add water, if batter is to runny then add more bread mix, accordingly.
  3. Add whole/raw almonds into a coffee bean grinder and pulse. Pulse to a random chopped/ground to your consistency of choice.  Pulse and pause, pulse and pause a few times for a more chopped topping or pulsing longer for a more grounded almond topping.
  4. Spoon batter into 9” bread loaf pan. Top with chopped/grounded almond and bake on top rack for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Compost your egg shells and lemon waste into a compost pile, or bury them directly into your soil.  Egg shells provide calcium in your soil, while citrus oils, like my St. Clements Posset recipe add essential oils to soils.

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