What is a Boysenberry?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A boysenberry is a type of glossy, large, juicy berry that is related to the North American blackberry. In addition to being eaten fresh during their brief growing season, they also can be incorporated into jams, preserves and syrups. Their flavor is somewhat reminiscent of raspberries with a more tart undertone, especially when the berries are not fully ripened. They are available from grocery stores and farmers' markets, but they are not very stable off the vine, so it is important to eat them within two or three days of purchase.

Boysenberries, center, are similar in appearance to blackberries, left.
Boysenberries, center, are similar in appearance to blackberries, left.

California Origins

The inventor of the boysenberry is believed to Rudolph Boysen, who experimented with various berry crosses in Napa, California, during the 1920s. In 1923, his cross of a blackberry, loganberry, and raspberry successfully grew and bore fruit. The combination was acquired by Walter Knott, a Southern California berry farmer, who started selling the fruit commercially in 1935. Boysenberries and their preserves helped make Knott's business quite famous.

Boysenberries are popular toppings for pancakes.
Boysenberries are popular toppings for pancakes.

Tart Flavor

The distinctly tart flavor of fresh boysenberries makes them very popular in areas where they can be obtained. When selecting ones to take home, shoppers should look for evenly sized and evenly colored specimens that have no areas of mushiness. The berries should be kept under refrigeration in a watertight container far from apples and bananas, which emit ethylene gas.

Boysenberries may be preserved as a jam and eaten throughout the year.
Boysenberries may be preserved as a jam and eaten throughout the year.

If the berries are not going to be used within three days of purchase, a person should consider using them to make jam. They can be scattered fresh on pancakes and waffles, used as a pie filling, or added as a decorative accent to cheesecakes and tarts. The berries also can be eaten plain or as part of a fruit salad.

Growing Boysenberries

To grow boysenberries at home, gardeners should find a patch of land that receives full sun and minimal wind. The soil should be tilled thoroughly, working in plenty of compost and mulch. Vines should be planted about 3 feet (0.9 m) apart in the late spring colder climates or the late fall in warmer climates.

Trellises should be installed for the trailing vines to grow on so that they will be pulled up off the ground, making the berries easier to harvest and less likely to rot. Typically, boysenberry vines will bear fruit in the spring, after which they should be cut down close to the ground to encourage fresh shoots, which will bear berries again the next year. The plants should be watered thoroughly after they are cut back, and the vines should be retrained as they grow.

It's common to eat boysenberries as part of a fruit salad.
It's common to eat boysenberries as part of a fruit salad.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I had a close friend who grew up in Orange County who knew the Knotts and Boysens. He told me that Boysen created that berry and gave it as a gift to Knott. Boysen was never compensated, but Knott did well financially with that berry.


how do boysenberries compare with marionberries?


I'm in Escondido, CA. An additional comment for growing boysenberries in our hot, dry summer climate is that I've had great success watering with soaker hoses. They seem to thrive better with this method than others I have tried. Also, in addition to eating fresh and making jelly, I also freeze some. Like blueberries (and maybe most berries) they don't get very hard when frozen. You can eat them that way or thaw them a little. It's nice to pull a few out of the freezer in January.


Southern Ontario Chef looking for local Boysenberries. Can anyone help?


There is a local historical marker (sign) mentioning the Boysen farm in Anaheim (small blue sign). I think the marker is on Ball Road. I used to pass it on the way from work (Boeing - Anaheim) on the way to Disneyland via surface streets.


It probably doesn't matter where the boysenberry was created, but I read in an old 1953 issue of Desert magazine that Knott found the original vine in San Luis Obispo County, California. While magazines certainly make mistakes, the article was written to promote Walter Knott's current business venture, so I believe they actually asked him.


I want to grow Boysenberries in Southern Ohio... is that possible? And any ideas on nurseries that carry them? Thank you!


Boysen's farm was in Orange County, California, several hundred miles south of Napa (where your article placed the farm). The exact location is lost to history, but believed to have been in Anaheim.


I have read someplace that boysenberries help with memory. Some preliminary studies have been done, and they suggested that boysenberries, along with some other berries contain substances that help fight aging and Alzheimer's. Even though more research needs to be conducted, it does not hurt to add boysenberries and as many other berries as possible to the daily menu. They are a great companion to oatmeal, yogurt, or in fruit salads, and with a sprinkling of nuts make it a healthy, satisfying treat.

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