top of page

Black Huckleberry
Gaylussacia baccata

Blueberry's Lesser Known Cousin

An ecological staple in New England, USA.


Black Huckleberry

Gaylussacia baccata

Photo taken by author.

What's in a [common] name?

When beginning my dive into black huckleberry, Gaylussacia baccata, literature, I quickly found that there is not a ton of information on this edible plant. Potentially derived from the American old English dialect word “whortleberry” referring to bilberries in the 1600s, black huckleberries are one of 4 species called huckleberries in the genus, Gaylussacia. Adding to the taxonomic confusion, there is also some debate as to whether or not there should be a distinction between the genus, Gaylussacia, and the closely related genus, Vaccinium, which contains the far more common and well-studied blueberry plants.

Description and Ecology

The black huckleberry is found across the northeastern United States and commonly in Massachusetts. This freely branched, deciduous shrub can be found growing up to 3 feet (1 meter) in height amongst blueberry plants, sweetferns, and bear oaks. Perhaps seemingly counterintuitive, huckleberry shrubs found in shaded areas grow larger than shrubs growing in open sun, which tend to remain smaller and more compact. They are well suited to nutrient poor soils and often decrease in abundance if over fertilized in domesticated ground. Black huckleberries have orange to red flowers, which are cylindrical to bell-shaped, and lead to tasty, edible dark blue to almost black drupe fruits. They have alternate leaves that have yellow resin dots on their underside; a helpful parameter to positively identify them.


Other than being tasty, black huckleberries have been found to help regenerate several species of oak trees in land challenged by disturbance such as a prescribed or wild-fire (Fei and Steiner. 2008). Additionally, black huckleberries have also been found to be an important floral resource for maintaining wild bee communities in Maine (Bushmann and Drummond. 2015). These research points are great examples of how foragers and outdoor enthusiasts should be mindful about the plants they engage with because the plants can serve important ecological roles in the greater nature community. Over foraging or plant destruction can be detrimental in more ways than one, so leave some berries for the birds and animals to disperse to allow more huckleberry plants to grow!

Look Alike Warning

Be sure not to confuse with Glossy False Buckhorn (Frangula alnus) or European Buckhorn (Rhamnus cathartica), which have similar sized and shaped berries, but can cause gastrointestinal upset.

Culinary Uses

Unfortunately, I could not find any reliable resources on black huckleberry nutritional content. Some sources pointed to rich antioxidant content of other edible members of the same plant family and suggested black huckleberries may be similar. While there may be a shortage of scientific information, there is certainly no lack of recipes. Black huckleberries can be eaten raw or cooked into jellies, jams, muffins, pancakes and several desserts. They can basically be a substitute in any blueberry recipe.

bottom of page