What is Haskap?

(courtesy of Wikipedia.org/haskap)


Haskap is the Japanese name for Lonicera caerulea (edible blue honeysuckle or EBH), and means ‘little presents on the end of branches’.


Long-lived, deciduous shrubs to about 4-6 feet in height and width. Flowers are cream-colored to light yellow and their abundance creates an attractive flowering shrub in spring. Flowering is early and the flowers withstand frost to -7 or -8C, with the plant being hardy to -45C.  Plants will not set fruit with their own pollen;  it is necessary to plant two different cultivars for cross-pollination. Bees are the main pollinators, especially bumble bees and blue orchard (or mason) bees that fly at lower temperatures than the less important honeybees.
Mature very early–a little before strawberries in Canada.
Fruit shapes are rarely round; they are more elongate and oval. Fruit texture varies from very soft and juicy to firm enough to hold up well in storage for at least 2 weeks. There may be up to 20 seeds per fruit but they are not noticeable when eating fruit–the whole berry seems to melt away, including the skin. Flavour has been described as a burst in your mouth, with an unmistakable tang and lingering mouth feel.
History of Haskap/Blue Honeysuckle in Japan/Russia/North America
Haskap berries are native to Hokkaido, the northern Island of Japan. Historically, wild-growing plants provided one of the few fruits available to the Aniu people, the indigenous population on this island. They appreciated their taste and also recognized their high nutritional value. In 1967, the Japanese began a program to domesticate this fruit. They collected and propagated outstanding plants form the wild, established regional trial plots to evaluate adaptability in different climates and to identify the very best selections. Plants were distributed to interested farmers who formed a growers cooperate to develop and market haskap processed products. Unfortunately, the original acreage and production of haskap has declined in recent years because hand-harvesting is cost-prohibitive. Farms are small and there is no berry harvesting machines in Hokkaido.
Haskap belongs to Lonicera caerulea L., a wide ranging species in northern regions of Eurasia and North America. The species, commonly called blue honeysuckle is divided into several subspecies base on distinct morphological traits and ecological adaptations. Russian scientists have developed many cultivars mainly from the Russian subsp. edulis and kamtschatica, which are well adapted to the severely cold regions of Russia, but not to more moderate climates. A few of these are currently being marketed in North America as “honeyberries”. Haskap belongs in the subspecies emphyllocalyx which is native to northern Japan. As compared to Russian subspecies, plants are different morphologically and they are adapted to more moderate climates. “Haskap”, the original Ainu name for this berry, is used by the Japanese industry and I think it appropriate to retain this unique name to distinguish this superior, new berry from the various ill-adapted blue honeysuckle plants currently in the North American nursery trade. In 2000, we collected seeds in Hokkaido from Japanese haskap selections. As far as I know, this was the first introduction of this subspecies to North America.  from Dr. Maxine Thompson, professor emeritus, Univ of Oregon
Dr. Bob Bors, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK
In the late 1990’s,  Dr. Bob Bors, Univ of SK,  became interested in the material, and in conjunction with Dr. Maxine Thompson at the Univ of Oregon, and the Vavilov Institute in Russia, obtained germplasm and material from both Russia and Japan. Following a grant from SK Agriculture in 2007, Dr. Bors and the Univ of SK were working on specifics of developing the Lonicera caerulea, working with over 3000 initial seedlings and expanding each year. Tundra and Borealis led the way in 2007, followed closely by the ‘Row 9’ selections of 9-15 (now Indigo Gem), and the now named Indigo Treat and Indigo Yum.  In the past two years (2011 and 2012), work has progressed so that the Univ has released several new pollenizers, namely ‘Aurora’ and ‘Honey Bee’ http://www.fruit.usask.ca/Documents/Haskap/HoneyBee.pdf. Work continues; the Haskap industry is ripe for development and new orchards are being created all over Canada, with some interest in the USA. Annually, Haskap Days at the University of Saskatchewan gives growers/researchers/propagators/processors/interested parties a chance to meet in an informal setting and discuss the future of this berry.
Fountain of Youth and Giver of Health?

We think so. Higher in anti-oxidants and Vitamin C than virtually every other fruit tested, newer studies and research support what the Japanese and Russian growers have always known–Haskap is, indeed, a berry with a future, and may prolong your life!

Most recent study (2012):
Dr. Vasantha Rupasinghe from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro compared 3 varieties of Haskap Berry (Borealis, Indigo Gem and Tundra) to partridgeberry, blackberry, wild blueberry, strawberry, raspberry and red table grape…. all of whose results confirmed the Haskap varieties to have the highest antioxidant values of all the berries tested.Dr. Rupasinghe:  “The results indicated that haskap berries possessed the highest antioxidant capacities and total phenolic contents, specifically total flavonoid among the tested fruits and could be used as a promising fruit source of natural dietary antioxidants”.