Sunday, June 10, 2018

At Your Service; Serviceberries are not just for the birds!

by Signe Langford

Also known as Saskatoon berry and June berry, these tasty tidbits got the name Serviceberry from settler days; when the trees were in bloom, it meant the traveling church services were coming to town.

I love this shrubby tree so much I could have acres and acres of it; and if I had acres and acres of it, I’d still want more. The flowers are pretty and delicate, and they bloom early, which is nice for the pollinators. The fruit is delicious and prolific; the berries are prized by robins, waxwings, and squirrels, so any I can’t reach get eaten up, while any windfalls go to my hungry hens. And in the fall, the leaves turn pretty yellowy-red-orange.

Photograph by Signe Langford

The berry isn’t strongly flavoured like a raspberry; it’s more subtle, somewhere between cherry and blueberry. The riper it is, the softer, darker, and more flavourful it becomes. When I crunch down on the tiny seeds, my mouth fills with the taste of marzipan, which is a real treat! The berries are perfect for jams, compotes, pancakes, fruit salads; really, anywhere you might include blueberries or cherries. But, more often than not, I simply stand under my trees, picking and eating, and giving the squirrels the stink eye.

In the garden, it’s pretty tolerant, but it does best with lots of sun, and it doesn’t like being thirsty. Treat it like a shrub or tree and prune it into the desired habit. Plant several, about two to three feet apart for a beautiful edible fence.

Photographs by Signe Langford

Serviceberry 101

Amelanchier alnifolia–Alder-leafed Serviceberry, Saskatoon berry
A. canadensis–Shadblow, Shadbush
A. laevis—Allegheny Serviceberry
A. stolonifera–Running Serviceberry
Zones 3–9
Height to 25 ft/7.5 m
Spread to 30 ft/10 m
Sun to part shade
Acidic, fertile, moist, well-draining soil (A. alnifolia tolerates alkaline soil)

Photograph by Signe Langford

Serviceberry Lemon Olive Oil Pancakes

Baking sweet things with olive oil is something that many of us North Americans come to later in life…usually after someone from Italy, Greece, the Middle East, or North Africa smacks us upside the head! Seriously, baking with olive oil is worth a little smack upside the head.

These easy pancakes are lemony and rich and generously studded with serviceberries. If you can’t find Serviceberries or Saskatoons, blueberries will do nicely.

If maple sugar is unavailable, use brown sugar.


1–1 1/3 cups (250–330 mL) flour

¼ cup (60 mL) sugar

3 Tbsp (45 mL) maple sugar

2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder

½ tsp (2 mL) sea salt

1 cup (250 mL) whole milk, buttermilk, or plain kefir

3 Tbsp (45 mL) lemon olive oil, plus more for frying

1 free-run egg

1 cup (250 mL) fresh or frozen serviceberries


Preheat oven to 200F (100C) and leave a baking sheet or oven-proof dish in there to keep pancakes warm, batch by batch.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In a small bowl, beat egg thoroughly then add milk (or buttermilk), oil, and combine thoroughly.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and slowly add the egg-milk mixture. Add the melted butter and vanilla. Stir quickly until ingredients are just mixed and batter is still lumpy in appearance. Add the berries and fold in, just to combine.

Drop by quarter cupfuls on an oiled, medium-hot pancake griddle or non-stick pan; cook until bubbles appear on top and the under-side is golden brown. Turn and brown the other side.

Serve with butter and maple syrup.

Serves 2 – 4

This post was written by Signe Langford

Signe Langford is a restaurant-chef-turned-writer who tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes. She is a frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Life, Canadian Living and Garden Making magazines. In 2105, Signe published her first book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden- with 100 Recipes

Raised in the town of Hudson, Quebec Signe grew up surrounded by an ever changing menagerie of critters, both wild and domestic, and her special affection for all feathered creatures has never flagged. At present, she shares a downtown Toronto Victorian with a tiny flock of laying hens. For more stories and recipes please visit


  1. Serviceberry is my favorite tree also. I planted one four years ago. It's a beautiful small tree that's easy to plant under. It provides dapples shade which my perennials love. (I live in Atlanta, GA where it is HOT! in the summer.) I love this tree so much that I bought another one two years ago. I think I'll buy a third one this fall. Thanks for the recipe. I can't wait to try it!

  2. Reading your post I am thinking, I don't know serviceberry. Then you let me know its Amalanchier. I love this tree, we planted two multi stem ones and in April they were smothered in white flowers. Our one is Amalanchier Lamarckii. Berries are forming and I know the birds love them but I dont think they are edible for us humans.

  3. Does anyone know if these berries are safe around dogs please? Thanks a lot

    1. I can't find any reference to suggest that service berries are poisonous to dogs. In my experience, the fruits are too high in the tree for the dogs to reach. The birds pick the trees clean long before the berries are ripe enough to fall to the ground.

    2. You are assuming that every service berry sprung into the world full grown. We have 3 that were just planted this spring and they are quite small and low to the ground. Our new puppy has become obsessed with the berries and I am trying to find information on whether or not they are safe.

    3. Birds love them and humans can mix them into recipes so they aren't toxic/poisonous. This reassures me that a dog eating the berries isn't going to cause harm. Puppies often move out the teething phase where they eat and chew just about anything. Check out my post on poisonous plants for hints on training your dog and a list of plants you might worry about more.

  4. I read it’s prone to a lot of diseases. I live in Virginia Beach and have been thinking about getting a couple but then I read about that problem.


Apologies, comments are disabled at this time.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.