Laura Dean Bennett\r\nStaff Writer\r\n\u00a0\r\nTo a lot of us, picking berries was a late summer rite of passage.\r\n\r\nSometimes it would be raspberries, sometimes blackberries or blueberries and sometimes, we\u2019d find huckleberries.\r\n\r\nYou may not hear much these days about huckleberries, but they\u2019re still out there, although it may take some doing to find them.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s said that huckleberries got their name from the first European settlers who mistook the plants with small, dark-colored sweet berries for English bilberries or blueberries.\r\n\r\nIn England, these berries were often called \u201churtleberries,\u201d which, after a time, was mispronounced and became \u201chuckleberries.\u201d\r\n\r\nHuckleberries are quite venerable- they\u2019re one of the oldest plants on Earth \u2013 having been around for more than 12,000 years.\u00a0\r\n\r\nMany huckleberry hunters are fooled by the look-alike serviceberry.\r\n\r\nWhile serviceberries are edible, they don\u2019t taste as good as huckleberries.\r\n\r\nHuckleberries are often confused with a wild blueberry, because differentiating between the two can\u2019t be done by color or size, because these characteristics will vary.\r\n\r\nThe only surefire way to tell them apart is by their seeds.\r\n\r\nA blueberry will contain lots of tiny, soft seeds whereas a huckleberry has exactly 10 larger, crunchy seeds.\r\n\r\nHuckleberries taste something like a tart blueberry, and just like a blueberry, they\u2019ll stain fingers and clothes a pretty shade of red.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThere are eight species of huckleberries native to North America.\r\n\r\nWestern huckleberries\u00a0are found from Wyoming to Alaska and through Canada at elevations from 2,000 to 11,000 feet.\r\n\r\nBut there are several varieties which grow in most of the eastern and southern states.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThere\u2019s the black huckleberry \u2013 widely distributed across the eastern half of the United States and Canada.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe dwarf huckleberry is a wetland species that is\u00a0found in most states along the eastern seaboard.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWooly huckleberry, Confederate huckleberry, hairy twig huckleberry and bear huckleberry grow in the south.\u00a0\r\n\r\nHere in West Virginia, we have the box huckleberry.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s also sometimes called box-leaved whortleberry.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s a dwarf, evergreen shrub which is actually a survivor of the last Ice Age.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIn the spring, as you\u2019re roaming over shady hillsides in mixed pine and oak forests, where other acid-loving plants and trees grow, keep your eyes peeled for huckleberry plants.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThey look like boxwood, with small, glossy leathery leaves.\u00a0\r\n\u00a0\r\nThe flowers will range from white to pink and are urn or bell-shaped.\u00a0\u00a0\r\n\r\nMake a note of their location and return in late summer and look for the fruit \u2013 which is small, round and hangs in shiny berry-like drupes.\u00a0\r\n\r\nDue to habitat destruction, the existence of many of these ancient survivors of the Ice Age is threatened. \u00a0\r\n\r\nThe box huckleberry has suffered significant incursion on its territory in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland; it\u2019s in danger in Virginia and West Virginia and is becoming rare in Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.\r\n\r\nHuckleberries grow in what botanists call colonies.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s actually a misleading description, though, because a colony is actually a single plant which usually grows to cover, on average, over eight acres.\r\n\r\nA huckleberry colony is self-sterile, meaning that its berries are grown from pollen received from another part of the same plant.\r\n\r\nThey are slow growers \u2013 fruiting and growing by cloning \u2013 and spreading only about six inches a year.\r\n\r\nGenetic tests by botanists have proven that one large colony, or single plant of box huckleberry, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covers between 100 and 300 acres.\r\n\r\nNative Americans undoubtedly ate them raw, but also dried the berries or smoked them and mashed them into cakes and stored them by wrapping them in leaves.\r\n\r\nThe colorful juice was used to make a dye.\r\n\r\nHuckleberries provided sustenance for the early settlers, who not only used them as food, but also made huckleberry mead and huckleberry ale from them.\r\n\r\nOf course, they are an important food source for wildlife. \u00a0\r\n\r\nSmall mammals and birds \u2013 including songbirds, ruffed grouse, quail and turkeys \u2013 depend on huckleberry fruit.\r\n\r\nThe berries are a delicacy to bears, as well.\r\n\r\nDeer eat the foliage and twigs and butterflies and bees seek the nectar of their Huckleberries are high in vitamin C and offer more antioxidant quality than any other fruit or vegetable.\r\n\r\nA medicinal tea can be brewed from their dried leaves and is, these days, commercially produced and sold in tea bag form.\r\n\r\nLike blueberries, huckleberries are great in cobblers, pancakes, waffles, muffins and the gamut of baked goods, but they are delicious in savory recipes, too.\r\n\r\nSprinkle huckleberries over salads and vegetables, put them in salad dressings and marinades and use them in unusual beverages.\r\n\r\nHuckleberry Cobbler\r\n1 box butter recipe yellow cake mix\r\n3\u20444 cup butter\r\n1 cup finely ground pecans (optional)\r\n1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal\r\n1 Tbsp. cinnamon\r\n1 1\/2\u00a0 cups fresh or frozen huckleberries \r\nPreheat oven to 350\u00b0. Mix first five ingredients until crumbly. Put half the mixture in the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking pan (sprayed with cooking oil) and pat down. Distribute huckleberries over bottom layer. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over the top and pat lightly. Bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.\r\n\u00a0\r\nHuckleberry Relish\r\n2 Tbsp. of very thinly sliced spring onion bulb\r\n2 tsp. red wine vinegar\r\n1 cup huckleberries (or blueberries) \r\n1 cup flat leaf parsley\r\n3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil\r\nCombine onion and vinegar in large bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes. Add huckleberries, parsley and oil. Crush some of the berries to make juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Let stand 30 minutes before serving over chicken, fish or pork.