Wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) is one of my favorite berries of the year. The flavor is complex, sweet-tart, almost more of an adult berry. It can also be called a Japanese raspberry and jewelberry. Around southern New England, they ripen in mid to late July, but this year we are seeing them early due to a mild spring and the current heat wave
The long canes of the wineberry are covered with reddish purple hairs and thorns. Wineberry thickets are easy to identify even from a distance or a moving car due to the overall reddish coloration of the canes, flower bunches, calyxes, and fruits. The canes will grow up to 10 feet long, and will re-root themselves when they arch over to touch the ground. The leaves are alternate and have 3 parts, each part toothed, usually lobed, and with a pointed tip. The undersides of the papery leaves are silvery-white. Late in spring, inconspicuous white flowers appear in clusters. After the flower passes, the red, hairy calyx lobes will close over the immature berry until it is ready to ripen.
The fruit is thimble shaped, and a yellowish receptacle is left behind on the plant when the berry is picked. The berries are bright red when mature, juicy, and very delicate. They appear glass-like, and have a slightly sticky texture. These berries are fantastic eaten raw, mixed into cereals or granola, or served with yogurt. We have made a brilliantly colored peasant wine with them, and some fantastic seedless jams. We also lay them out in single layers on a sheet pan in the freezer until frozen, then bag the frozen berries for storage all winter. The leaves may be dried to make tisane like other species of raspberries.
Wineberries are considered an invasive species in America, originally coming from eastern Asia and Japan. It was brought to America to breed with raspberries, but escaped into the wild. It grows mainly in the eastern areas of the country, from Canada to North Carolina and west to Michigan. It prefers sunlight and disturbed areas, and grows well along the edges of roads and open fields. Wineberry thickets can crowd out native species, but also provide food and shelter for wildlife.