The size of a Manzanita is a shrub or small tree. The branches have peeling bark. The peeling bark gives way to a smooth red surface of wood. The two inch leaves are light green and leathery. Pinkish-white bell shaped flowers appear in clusters. The flowers produce pea-sized berries that look like little apples.
Manzanita trees can be found on hillsides and
prefer dry rocky soil. Manzanita trees are also called Bearberry, or Bigberry
There are over 40 species of Manzanita in California.
All of the berry species are edible but some are bitter because of the presence
of tannic acid. Some berries have a sweet taste. They can be eaten raw, however
eating too many will have a laxative effect.
Early Spanish explorers called Manzanita, Little Apple. The berries were gathered green by Spanish settlers to make a soft drink and jelly. The green fruit is very acidic and said to be a good thirst quencher. The early settlers made a cider out of the berries.
The native Americans usually only collected the
ripe fruit, eaten fresh and stored for winter usage. They also used the leaves
as a substitute for tobacco. A lotion made from the leaves was used as a cure
for the inflammation caused by Poison Oak.
Manzanita produces hot gases when burned creating
an extremely hot fire. It is suggested that owners of wood burning stoves
not burn Manzanita because they can actually melt the iron stove.