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Bear soap

Although its fall, there are some berries still clinging to bushes in the mountains. One of them is the snowberry.

Named because the berries are white, like snow, the snowberry bush seems to be able to grow well in poor soil. So if you like plants that are tough, ask your parents to plant a snowberry bush. It won’t grow much taller than about 9 feet.

The same bush is also called waxberry, white coralberry, or white, thin-leaved, or few-flowered snowberry, according to the website Native Plants PNW. Different species are found in North America, Central America and China.

My wife saw a patch of the berries on a recent hike. We were up in the mountains fairly high, about 7,000 feet. The berries’ white color stood out like little pearls in the brown brush and grasses of fall.

Snowberries contain a chemical called saponin. Saponin is where we get the word soap. Like soap, snowberries will produce foam when crushed up and added to water. The berries were once used as shampoo and even as an antiperspirant — you know, that stuff adults rub under their armpits so they don’t stink so much.

You may have noticed snowberry bushes in the spring, when they produce a pretty, small pink or white bell-shaped flower.

Deer and bighorn sheep will eat the snowberry’s smaller branches. Birds, like mountain grouse, dine on the berries, as do black bears.

“Hunting tribes sometimes put large quantities of snowberries in streams or lakes to stupefy or kill fish,” according to Native Plants PNW.

Look for these bright white pearls on bushes the next time you hike.

— Brett French,

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