In its early years, people knew the small town of Gustavus as “Strawberry Point” because of the abundance of the sweet, wild berries growing here. The town name was changed to Gustavus in 1925 by the new post office. This new name came from Gustavus Point at the mouth of Glacier Bay. However, locals continued to refer to the community as Strawberry Point into the 50s and beyond.
The wild strawberry, or beach strawberry, as it is often called, is a member of the rose family. It is a perennial from the Fragaria genus. The plant has thick, scaly roots. It starts new plants by runners, just like cultivated strawberries. The leaves of the beach strawberry look the same also. In the spring, a flower with 3 white petals blooms on a long, slender stem. The juicy fruit grows up to 1 inch long.
The leaves, stems, and berries are edible and contain lots of vitamin C as well as iron, potassium, sulphur, calcium and sodium. Eat the berries raw or in jam, jelly, and other desserts.
Gustavus black bears really like strawberries. If you have a favorite patch, you’d better pick it before the bears get to it, or there will be no berries. This spring I had a profusion of wild strawberry plants growing along my driveway. Some were still blossoming and some had begun forming fruit. I watched through my window as a black bear ambled out of the woods and began munching on those strawberry plants. He’d take a bite out of the middle of each one, getting flowers, berries and stems in the process. When he was finished, he had successfully harvested all the blooming plants from the road edge.
To make a nice strawberry tea, pick 2 large handfuls of fresh green leaves and stems, put them in 1 quart of water heated to boiling, and steep for 5 minutes. Serve plain or with fresh lemon juice and sugar. This tea is also good cold the next day.
Medicinally, these berries may be used to prevent vitamin C deficiency. They are high in antioxidants and will help rid the system of harmful free radicals.
The Cooperative Extension Service of Alaska, in their publication, Wild Berry Recipes, supplied directions for the making of the following berry conserve.
Wild Strawberry-Pineapple Conserve
2 cups wild strawberries
2 cups canned crushed pineapple
2 cups sugar
1 cup pecans or walnuts
Mix strawberries, pineapple, and sugar and let stand 3 to 4 hours or overnight. Simmer slowly to develop the juice, and then boil rapidly for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add nuts. Spoon into hot, sterilized jars and seal with paraffin and lids.