Today, most strawberries grown in America are bred to be two things: giant and hardy. While they’re certainly ideal for farmers and distributors who sell the summer fruits all over the country, they’re a far cry from wild strawberries that some of us remember growing up on.
Modern strawberries come from a cross between Chilean Fragaria chiloensis and North American Fragaria virginiana, the former of which is large but somewhat tasteless, and the latter of which is very sweet, albeit a bit on the small, delicate side. The result: the Fragaria x ananassa became the parent of all modern strawberries and has subsequently been crossbred to create plants that bear large numbers of big, firm fruit – with far less flavor.
“In the process of creating the modern supermarket strawberry, we inadvertently dulled a lot of the fruit’s once robust flavor and aroma,” writes Ferris Jabr for Scientific American. And while Jabr notes that scientists are working on bringing that flavor back, this might be something you can achieve right at home (or find at your local farmers’ market).
Since strawberries have, once again, made it to the top of the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list – a list of the most pesticide-ridden produce – it’s important to choose strawberries that have been grown without any pesticides, which means either seeking them out from a reliable, organic source, or growing your own (which is relatively easy as long as your garden gets a lot of sun). In either case, make sure to seek out flavorful, heirloom varieties; here are five of our favorites:
Wild American Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
Not only do you get the early-summer white blossoms and edible fruit, but the Wild Strawberry plant takes on a great red fall color also. Wild Strawberries grow in a wide variety of sun and soil conditions: full sun to nearly full shade, prairie, meadows, fields, on moist ground, along the edge of woods, and on hillsides. The fruit ripens in late spring or early summer. They are much smaller than commercial strawberries but still one of the best trail snacks you could have to enjoy on your ventures. #getoutandhike #getoutside #gooutside #hiking #backpacking #foraging #wildstrawberries #fragariavirginiana #wildedibles #hikepa #pawilderness #pawilds #explorepa #optoutside #greettheoutdoors #dirtyhikertrash #packitinpackitout
If you grew up picking wild strawberries on the East Coast, this is likely the variety you enjoyed. The small but delicious berries from this plant boast a rich, sweet-tart flavor. Plant this variety, and you’ll likely have berries later in the season than you otherwise would with many others.
Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca)
Tiny Alpine strawberries grow wild in Europe, bearing fruit throughout the summer, but peaking in July. Tough and hardy, these strawberry plants boast sweet, small strawberries that are particularly delicious when macerated in just a hint of sugar or cooked into jam to bring out their natural juices. Otherwise, while they boast a deep, far more complex flavor than some, these berries can be a bit drier than what you might be used to.
Gariguette Strawberries (Fragaria ananassa Gariguette)
The Gariguette strawberry is a French variety dating to the 1930s that is actually related to that first cross between Chilean and American berries. But don’t worry – they’re far more flavorful (and a bit smaller) than American behemoths. Long and slender, these fruits are particularly juicy and aromatic, and they boast a nice, slightly sweet-and-sour flavor
Alpine Yellow Wonder (Fragaria vesca Yellow Wonder)
These fragile berries ripen to a deep golden yellow, but don’t let the color throw you! Yellow Wonder berries are aromatic and flavorful, and some gardeners note that they’re far less likely to succumb to birds and other predators, since they lack the bright color of other berries.
Ogallala Strawberries (Fragaria ananassa Ogallala)
These strawberries boast the best of both worlds: a cross between the larger ananassa strawberry and smaller wild Rocky Mountain strawberries, Ogallalas are fresh and similar to wild strawberries in flavor, though they’re quite a bit larger. Drought-resistant and hardy, these plants are great for novice gardeners.