Is it wineberry season yet? This simple question has marked the halfway point of my summers for countless years—not so much asked as a genuine question, per se, but rather put forth as a remark on how quickly summer is passing by. I was the one to ask the question this summer, sitting in the passenger seat of my father’s car.

“No, we have a few weeks yet,” my father said. “Mid-July, right?”

“Oh, right.” I nodded. And that was that. 

A beautiful clump of ripe wineberries. Photo by John Atkinson.

Well, it’s mid-July right now, and the wineberries are popping up all around me! Wineberries, despite being found all across New England, along the Eastern coast, and as far west as Arkansas, are not native to the United States. These prickly bushes come from China, Japan, and Korea, originally introduced as ornamental plants.

However, wineberries quickly became an invasive species, spreading into the environment and choking out other plants. Additionally, the dense thickets these bushes form — as they aren’t like the carefully cultivated raspberry or blueberry bushes one might find at a berry-picking farm, all lined up in perfect rows — disrupt the habitats of various wild animals.

It’s common to find wineberries in places typically not favored by other plants: cracks in rock walls, in the middle of pachysandra, along roadsides, and especially in partially shaded areas. My family’s best-yielding bushes, in fact, grow in a cramped area in between our garden and several pine trees.

My family’s favorite wineberry patch, engulfing our garden wall. Photo by John Atkinson.


Wineberry bushes are extremely dense and unruly, each bright red berry protected by rows of spiky thorns. The berries do resemble boysenberries or raspberries—I’ve often heard them be referred to as a “cousin of a raspberry”— but are much tangier in flavor. They have no poisonous lookalikes, which makes identification much less worrisome. That being said, when I was younger, I would often mix up wineberries with unripe blackberries, which were quite bitter!

To an untrained eye, the unripe blackberries in the outer edges of this photo could easily be mistaken for wineberries. Photo by John Atkinson.

Evident in the photo below are the soft and fuzzy stems of the wineberry plant, studded by small, sharp thorns. The undersides of the leaves are pale and furry, and the edges are visibly scalloped, with several tapering into a sharp point. Fuzzy pods surround the berries — if you peel one of these apart before it has naturally opened, you’ll find a tiny, firm, and very unripe berry!

Note the fuzzy sides of the pod surrounding the spot where the berry grew. Photo by John Atkinson.

The ripest, sweetest berries are a deep red color, and once you’ve eaten a few, you’ll be able to differentiate between almost-ripe, ripe, and overripe. In the photo below, I might be tempted to go for the lower berry on the rightmost cluster, but this berry would likely be slightly too tart to be enjoyable. The best berries are the lowest two on the leftmost cluster, with the one in the back being slightly overripe! The best part about wineberries being invasive is that there’s absolutely no shortage of berries in all stages of ripeness, so whatever your preference, there’s sure to be a berry for you

The birds haven’t gotten to these berries yet — more for us! Photo by John Atkinson.


Every year, my father, sister, and I don our “wineberry-picking gear” (long pants, long sleeves, and high socks) and clamber into the tangle of brushes, tupperware containers in hand. For large patches of wineberries, I would recommend wearing thicker clothing to prevent being pricked. High socks and shoes are also important for keeping ticks at bay, especially in the area where Lyme Disease was first identified!

One tip to keep in mind when picking wineberries is to check just below the leaf layer. The ripest, heaviest berries weigh down the thin branches.

My father has perfected the art of picking ripe wineberries. Photo by John Atkinson.

Any container can be used to collect wineberries, from coffee mugs to cupped hands. I do suggest using a smaller container than you think you’ll need, because it can be tempting to pick as many as possible, and it’s very easy to upset your stomach if you eat too many at once. Every year, my own family jokes about eating more wineberries than we put into our buckets, and every year — on the first day of harvest — we inevitably forgo dinner, each of us overly stuffed with berries.

My father’s afternoon snack, collected in an old takeout container. Photo by John Atkinson.

You might be tempted to pick them as soon as they aren’t light pink anymore, but the best method of testing ripeness is to gently brush your hand against the berries. The ones that are ready will fall right off the vine and into your hand. In contrast, berries that need more time to ripen will remain on the bush, so let them sit a little longer. Be forewarned, though: birds, squirrels, and other wildlife may get there first!

Storage & Usage:

There’s really no good way to store the plain berries, as a few hours in the refrigerator or the freezer leave them mushy and sour. Leaving them on the countertop has the same result, unfortunately, so try not to go too crazy when harvesting! However, there are plenty of recipes involving wineberries, so don’t worry if, like my family, you end up with pounds upon pounds of leftover berries.

These glossy berries make a delicious snack all by themselves. Photo by John Atkinson.

Although they are slightly tangier, wineberries can be used as a replacement for blackberries or raspberries in some other common summer recipes, including cobblers or sorbets—you might just need to add more sugar to balance their tart flavor. Additionally, wineberry jam is a classic, super simple way to use up a large number of berries. Just mix the crushed or juiced berries with lemon juice, water, and sugar in a similar ratio to other jam recipes and simmer on the stovetop until thick. I love to add some to my oatmeal, but it can also be enjoyed on toast, in sandwiches, or even eaten plain! Overall, though, I find that nothing beats a sun-warmed handful of ripe wineberries fresh off the vine.