The viburnums are quite common in landscapes, being sold in some form by most full-service garden centers.
There are somewhere between 150 and 250 species of this plant, depending on the reference you consult. Let’s look into the American cranberry bush viburnum (v. trilobum) and other useful landscape viburnums that have berries you can eat.
Viburnum plantings are typically done because people love the blooms and the reasonable amount of care they require for looking good. The snowball bush viburnum (v. opulus), and it’s close relative the highbush cranberry (v. trilobum), are two that have nice white flower heads and then red fruits in the late fall. The American one has tastier fruits, but the European one has prettier flower heads. Selections of both have excellent fall color in the landscape.
Fruits on the highbush cranberry are quite sour, and as with all viburnums, the amount of pulp and juice to seed ratio isn’t the best. Too seedy to eat fresh and consume the seeds with the flesh and skin.
They do, however, make some great jelly. And dried, they can make a tasty wintertime snack. Juice or even wine are possible, although you need a pretty sizable amount of the small berries to do major projects such as canning juice or making wine.
Native Americans didn’t have apples, pears, peaches, oranges, pineapples and so many of the fruits we take for granted from the supermarket. Angonquin, Cherokee, Cree, Iriquois and Ojibwa tribes found ways to utilize these fruits–from dried raisins to pemmican (that is tallow and fruit mixed and stored for use later). Though many are sour and have a high proportion of seed to flesh, they can come in handy for a quick snack if you’re out for a hike or something.
Edible species of viburnum include, viburnum alnifolia, cassinoides, dilatatum (linden), edulus, farreri (culver’s root), prunifolium (black haws), lantana, lentago (nannyberry or sweet viburnum), nudum, opulus, rufidulum, stegirum, and trilobum. And a few others I am sure.
But, if in doubt, do some identification and some research or you might make yourself sick eating the wrong ones. None that I know of are harmful, other than maybe making one nauseous if eating too many, especially unripe ones. But the ones listed here are among the better ones for consumption.
Viburnum lentago, or nannyberry, is perhaps the biggest and tastiest of the group. But the shrub goes 10-foot tall and 6-foot wide, and more. Creamy flowers in May or June, and dark green foliage in summer, and colorful leaves in fall, and blue berries that hang on into winter if nobody picks them.
Wayfaring tree, (v. lantana), Appalachian tea, (v. cassinoides), Black haw (v. prunifolium), Rusty haw, (v. rufidulum), Mooseberry, (v. edule), and so on, are useful native plants and also have edible berries.
The arrowood viburnum can be eaten, but there’s not much there to eat except skin and seed. It’s a great substitute for the invasive burning bush euonymous in landsaping.
Arrowood and linden viburnums have been used for the shafts of warriors arrows as documented having been found with ancient partially preserved human bodies. But much more recently, even in Daniel Boone’s time arrowood came from the native shrubs.
With viburnums we get a good looking landscape shrub, bearing fruits edible by humans as well as wildlife, by planting many of the viburnums. I especially recommend some of the cranberry and nannyberry viburnums for large shrubs that also have useful berries; and for a small tree, the blackhaw viburnum.
If we delved into 150 viburnum species, we can well imagine discovering a few more good ones to add to our list that are both edible and useful landscaping plants. We’ve found plenty to select from for our next landscape planting project. With a bonus of a snack or some jelly, or letting nature feed the wildlife.