Why Do We Not Hear About Winberries or Wimberries?

Our resident fruit expert answers a reader’s question on the apparent disappearance of a heritage berry variety which goes by many names.

bowl of winberries nestling amongst foliage
Winberries or wimberries were once a well known and popuar fruit variety. Where have they gone?

Q.When are winberries in season and why do we not hear alot about them anymore?

(Mrs Carolyn Briggs-Conway, 6 October 2020)

A.The first part of your question is a lot easier to answer than the second – if you’re looking to harvest some wild winberries or wimberries as they are also known, then I’m afraid you’ve almost certainly missed your chance. In most years, they can be collected from July to September. Depending on the weather and whereabouts you are in the country that can stretch a bit in either direction.

Local Names and Variations of Winberry / Wimberry

As to why we don’t hear much about winberries anymore – the answer is probably because they also have a number of other names, which seem to have become more commonly used.

Winberries / Wimberries – sometimes also written as whinberries, whimberries or whynberries are also known as:-

  • Blaeberries.
  • Bilberries.
  • Whortleberries.
  • Huckleberries (as in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn).

Originally largely regional names, people obviously kept the name for these delicious berries that they were used to when they moved. There is now considerable confusion as a result. A lot of people firmly convinced that they are all different fruits!

Throw in the influence of other countries ‘folk’ names for Winberries – especially Finland and Scandinavia where they have been historically used – and things get even more complicated. For example, the likes of ‘blåbær’ being normally translated as ‘blueberry’.

Winberry Facts

In the UK, Winberries are now largely only available through wild foraging. If you want to try out these traditional berries and see how the differ from modern favourites such as blueberries, here’s a few facts to help!

When is Winberry Season?

You can collect the berries from July to September.

Where Can I Find Winberries Now?

Winberries are usually found growing on low bushes on scrubby moorland. They can be difficult to find, but once you find a patch to forage you can return year after year.

Do Winberries Taste The Same as Blueberries?

Winberries are much more acidic than Blueberries. They can be eaten without cooking, but are far more palatable when used to bake tarts or as an accompanyment to meat dishes.

A Little Bit of Winberry Botany

Along with the likes of cranberries, blueberries and lingonberries, winberries / wimberries belong to the botanical genus Vaccinium. This is part of the Heath or Ericaceous family of plants (Ericaceae).

The group contains around 450 species, most of which live in the cooler and more westerly parts of the northern hemisphere. However, a few are found south of the equator. Just to complete the picture of horticultural confusion, many of these species can hybridise – and then goodness only knows what you’d call them!

Changing Demand in Berry Consumption

Until fairly recently, there were plenty of recipes for winberries, particularly amongst country-folk, but with the growth of supermarkets and imported ‘proper’ fruit, like many of the old staples, the blaeberry seems to have fallen out of favour – at least until now.

Society has become more concerned about organic and environmental issues. Therefore things like food miles and how our food is produced has started to bring many of the old favourites back in fashion. So we may not have heard the last of this hedgerow favourite.

We may not all start cooking the rabbit, grouse, venison or pigeon for which winberries once formed the traditional accompaniment. However these wild berries may yet become more popular once again and then you’ll hear more about them!

4 thoughts on “Why Do We Not Hear About Winberries or Wimberries?

  1. Fiona says:

    I’ve just looked up winberries here as Anna Pavord describes picking them on Sugar Loaf as a child, in the beginning of her book “Landskipping”. Maybe that’s their Welsh name, now I know they’re the same as the blaeberries that I look for up here in Scotland.
    Thank you.

    • Fruit Expert says:

      Hi Fiona, it’s good to know they can also be found in Scotland. What sort of areas do you forage for them? I’m in Scotland now, so would like to try going out and looking for them locally!

      • Debbie says:

        If you find heather, you will likely find winberries (or bilberries as I call them in The Peak District). Bracken can overtake them in places but try looking on the margins between woodland and moorland. Always look underneath the leaves to find more fruit. It is my yearly ritual to go picking ( and then baking pies). The tradition was handed down from my grandparents.

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