Edible Wild Plants: Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria Hispidula)

Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria Hispidula)Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria Hispidula) is a low trailing perennial plant found in bogs and wetland forests in the northern United States and Canada. The leaves are round and only 5 to 10 millimeters long. The creeping stems form leafy mats on logs and hummocks, often near Sphagnum moss. The stems and under-surface of the leaves are covered with brown bristles. Sometimes the leaf margins and fruits have the bristles too. Flowers appear in the spring, and are white, four-parted, on short backward-curving stalks from the leaf axils.

The flowers develop into small white berries, egg-shaped and 5-10 mm long, ripening in mid to late summer. The berries are edible and have a spectacular wintergreen flavor, similar to the related wintergreen plant (Gaultheria procumbens). The flavor is more concentrated in the snowberry, and has been compared with that of a wet Tic-Tac. To find creeping snowberry fruits, look for the mats of tiny leaves, then crouch down to find the white fruits. They may be hidden among the small leaves.

Creeping Snowberry Edible Wild Plant

Creeping snowberry is in the Heath family (Ericaceae). It fits in that family due to being a woody plant, flower characters, the way the anthers release their pollen, and a fondness for acid habitats.

Creeping snowberry is rare at the southern end of its range. It is state-protected in Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

The genus Gaultheria was named for Hugues Gaultier ,a naturalist and physician in Quebec in mid-18th century. The Latin name hispidula refers to the bristles on the stem and leaves.

Creeping Snowberry Fruit BerryAnother common name is “moxie” or “moxie plum.” The word “moxie” may be derived from the Algonquian Indian word “maski”, meaning “medicine”. Moxie is better-known today thanks to the soft drink created by Dr. Augustin Thompson (1835-1903). He created the patent medicine “Moxie Nerve Food” which he later developed into the soft drink “Beverage Moxie Nerve Food” which eventually became just “Moxie.” The soft drink reportedly was flavored with extract of gentian root and wintergreen. Extensive advertising in the 1920s brought the word into popular usage, as in “This guy’s got moxie!” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines moxie as energy, pep, courage, determination, or know-how. In the 2009 film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Amelia Earheart (Amy Adams) tells the night watchman (Ben Stiller) that he needs to find his moxie. Next time you are in a northern wetland forest, you can find your own moxie.

Gaultheria hispidula can be distinguished from other members of Ericaceae by the following combination of characters: densely hairy, prostrate stems; alternate, short-petioled leaves that have brown bristles on the lower surfaces and white berries.

Creeping Snowberry On Florest FloorIts leaves are less than 1 cm long, while other members of the genus have leaves over 1 cm. The most similar species is small cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos). Small cranberry grows in similar habitats and is sometimes associated with creeping snowberry. Its small, strongly reflexed flowers are very different from the campanulate flowers of creeping snowberry. Vegetatively they are superficially similar in appearance and could be confused. Small cranberry lacks the coarse bristles on the leaf undersides, which are prominent on the creeping snowberry. It also has distinctly revolute leaves while the leaves of Gaultheria hispidula are not rolled under. Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) vegetatively can also be similar in appearance, but is generally larger in most respects. It also lacks the coarse hairs or bristles of creeping snowberry.

The foliage is sometimes confused with that of the cranberries, but differs in the wintergreen flavor, strigose stems, more acute leaf tips, green undersides of the leaves, and bristle-like glands or hairs on the undersides (and often margins) of the leaves.

Creeping snowberry is not a true snowberry (Symphoricarpos) but rather a Gaultheria, closely related to salal (Gaultheria shallon) and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens). It can be distinguished from other species of Gaultheria by its four-lobed flowers (flowers of the other species are mostly five-lobed), its small leaves, and its white fruit.

Edible Parts

  • Fruit
  • Leaves

Uses

Fruit – raw or cooked. Pleasantly acid and refreshing, with a delicate flavor of wintergreen. An agreeable sub-acid taste, similar to G. shallon.

They can be made into delicious preserves. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter.

Leaves – raw or cooked. The leaves are used to make a tea. A mild flavor of wintergreen. Said to be superior to china tea.

Medicinal Uses

The plant is said to remove the cancerous taint from the body.

An infusion of the leaves has been used as a tonic for a person who has overeaten.

Where Does Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria Hispidula) Grow?

Where Does Creeping Snowberry Grow Map

How To Identify Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria Hispidula)

Creeping Snowberry Leaves
Leaves

Tiny, oval, alternate leaves, which smell of wintergreen.

Creeping Snowberry Stem
Stem

Stems are typically unbranched and have alternating leaves along their lengths.

Creeping Snowberry Flower
Flowers

The flowers are tiny, 4 lobed, drooping and bell shaped

Creeping Snowberry Fruit
Seed/Fruit

White berries appear in leaf axis and continue through winter

1 Comment

One Response to “Edible Wild Plants: Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria Hispidula)”

  1. Ruth Nederlk says:

    Found this very interesting. Don’t think I have ever seen this in our area or yard. Would love to come across it.

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