Hackberries form one of the best foods when it comes to a survival situation. They can be plucked right off the tree and eaten as such without any cooking. Since these berries are high in caloric value, they provide long lasting energy when consumed. In addition to the pulp, the seeds and kernel of the fruit are also very nutritious and so eating the whole fruit provides you with plenty of protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber along with considerable amounts of nutrients like calcium and phosphorus. Samuel Thayer, the author of Nature’s Garden, suggests in his book that it is possible for an individual to live for several months just by eating hackberries and nothing else at all.
Hackberry is a tall tree that can be seen growing throughout the eastern parts of the US. It can also be found in almost all continents except Antarctica. With its light gray colored bark and warty masses all over the bark, it is very easy to identify the hackberry tree. It produces small tasty berries that are at first green in color, which later turn into bright red when they are ripe. The entire berry, along with its stone and kernel is a rich source of calcium, and contains up to 20% protein, carbohydrates, fat, fiber and other important nutrients. Although the hackberries ripen during September-October, they tend to remain on the trees all through winter and sometimes through the spring season too. Hackberries have relatively low moisture content and high sugar content, which makes them less prone to damage.
Health benefits of hackberry fruits
The fruits of the hackberry tree have been found to have many medicinal properties and so they are used in the treatment of various ailments. The Native Americans used the extracts of the hackberry tree to treat common health problems like colds, sore throats and coughs. Given below are some of the health benefits offered by these amazing berries:
Hackberries help reduce heavy menstrual bleeding
The leaves and berries of hackberry tree contain astringent properties. A decoction of the fruit and leaves is used in the treatment of amenorrhoea (absence of menstrual periods) and inter-menstrual bleeding. It is useful to regulate blood flow during menses.
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Hackberries and digestive health
In addition to their astringent effects, the hackberry leaves and fruits also have laxative and stomachic (promotes appetite or assists in digestion) properties. A decoction of hackberry fruits and leaves is used to astringe or contract the mucous membranes, which helps in finding relief from peptic ulcers, dysentery, diarrhea and colic.
Hackberry is a good source of antioxidants
Scientific studies reveal that hackberries are a rich source of polyphenolic compounds that possess strong antioxidant properties. According to a study published in Scientia Pharmaceutica by scientists in Egypt, the leaves of hackberry tree shows significant levels of antioxidant properties. Because of these properties, hackberries have the potential to be used to negate the harmful effects of free radicals, thus slowing down the aging process and preventing deadly diseases like cancer.
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Hackberry bark has potential to cure cancer
The bark of hackberry has been found to contain a compound known as quercetin, which is known for its anti-cancer properties. A study published in the 2013 issue of Anticancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry reveals that this compound has the ability to inhibit growth and multiplication of cancer cells. The ability of quercetin to inhibit this growth of cancer cells makes it a safe and natural remedy for the treatment of various types of cancers. Studies also reveal that quercetin has anti-inflammatory properties and have the ability to help relieve inflammation and atherosclerosis.
Other uses of hackberry
The bark of hackberry is used to make a decoction, which is used for treating sore throats. A compound decoction, prepared using the barks and powdered shells is used as a remedy for treating venereal diseases. Some parts of the hackberry trees have been used for firewood, producing drugs and for making various types of craft items. Boiling the leaves and bark of hackberry produces a red or dark brown dye, which is used for coloring wool. The papago tribe made use of the bark of the hackberry tree to make footwear.
Food use of hackberries
Hackberry trees are found in abundance throughout the North American continent, mainly in areas such as wetlands, swamps, rocky hillsides, stream banks, and hardwood forests. It has been found that the Native American tribes like Acoma, Yavapai, Omaha, Tewa, Navajo, Papago and Laguna consumed hackberries in its fresh or dried forms. The people of the Comanche tribe use to make a pulp out of the hackberry fruits, combine it with fat, roll the mixture into balls and then roast them over a fire. The Kiowa tribe also made a paste of the hackberries, casted the paste onto a stick and roasted the pulp over an open fire. The Apache, Chiricahua, and Mescalero tribes however consumed the hackberries in many different ways. In addition to eating them fresh, they also used these berries to make jelly and dried cakes.
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The Meskwaki tribe used to make porridge out of ground hackberries. The Dakota tribe dried hackberry fruits and then powdered them to make a condiment for seasoning their meat. A special kind of food was prepared by the Pawnee tribe by pounding the hackberries into a powder, and then mixing it with fat and parched corn. In historic times, early Native Americans used to pulverize the entire hackberry fruit, including the seeds and make cakes out of them. They also made a sweet bread from it, which could be used and store for an indefinite period of time. These cakes often served as a food source for explorers during their long treks towards the west.
Although quite uncommon, hackberries can be used to make jelly and jam, which is considered a delicacy by many. The reason why it is not so popular is that it takes significant effort to gather adequate amount of these tiny berries to prepare a batch of jam.