Blackberry, Rubus fruticosus, is a sprawling, thorny bush that grows to around 12 ft. and belongs to the Rosaceae (Rose) family. It has palm-shaped leaves with 3-5 lobes, white to pale pink flowers, and clusters of black berries, per the name. Related to dewberry, R. caesius, that has fruit with fewer, larger segments and a bloom blue, as well as to Raspberry, R. idaeus, (post coming soon) .
Blackberries are native to temperate areas of Europe, but are naturalized in the Americas and Australia. Grows along roads, in open areas, woodlands, and basically anywhere else it is given the chance to take up residence. Leaves are picked in spring and summer while the berries are picked in summer and the fall. Flowers will usually begin to appear in March-April. Berries start off green, formed from the flowers, then turn red like their cousin the raspberry, and then darken to nearly black with a staining, purple juice.
I’m almost positive everyone has at least heard of blackberries, and more than a few of you have first hand experience with this delicious little berry–whether you have bought them from the super market or picked them yourself. It is an aggressive plant that will easily spread on wide swaths of cleared land left to its own devices. Years ago when we lived in town, we may not have upkept the yard as well as we should have, and I managed to grow a nice patch of wild blackberries that made their way into our yard. The seeds pass through human and bird digestive tracts unharmed, which very much helps the spread of the plant, but it also spreads by rhizomes, making it super difficult to get rid of once it is established.
If you have never had a home-made blackberry cobbler, you haven’t lived.
I may or may not have a recipe for you guys at a later date. Follow my blog to get notified when that happens.
Gaelic name is an druise bennaichte, meaning “blessed bramble.” Supposedly, Jesus used a bramble switch when riding his donkey to Jerusalem to evict the moneylenders from the temple.
Blackberry hedges were used as defensive barriers by Native American settlements. If you have ever gotten snagged by the vine you will know first hand why this would have been so effective. Not only are the vines thorny, once it pricks you, it can cause skin irritation that itches like crazy.
FORAGING TIP: The best berries will be in the hardest to reach areas, where not even the birds will venture. Long sleeves and gloves might do you some good, but I prefer to live on the edge of life and go in bare-skinned. I like to be able to feel the berry so that I don’t accidentally squish it. With gloves, your sense of touch is hindered. Finger-less gloves work wonders if you want a little protection though. I find it fun to try and not let the itching irritate me, but I may be weird. Mind over matter!
But what if I told you there is more to the deliciousness of this little beauty?
What if I told you it was medicinal as well?
…The fruit, so beloved of wine and jam makers, has rich medicinal properties, full of vitamin C and minerals, as are the leaves.”-Furnell (1985)
Leaves contain tannins, flavonoids, and gallic acid. Berries contain anthocyanins, pectin, fruit acids, and vitamin C.
Dioscorides recommended ripe blackberries in a gargle for sore throat. In European folk medicine, blackberry leaves have long been used for washing and staunching wounds. The leaves are very astringent, making them great in a decoction (post coming soon) and used as a mouthwash to strengthen spongy gums and sooth mouth ulcers, as a gargle for sore throat, and ingested to relieve diarrhea and hemorrhoids.
BRAMBLE LEAF TEA:
-Leaves should be picked in spring and summer while they are fresh and green. Can be used fresh in season, or dried for winter use. Dry in a shady area, or indoors until brittle and they crumble easily. Store in jars in a cool, dark place.
-To make tea, put a few fresh leaves, or a teaspoon of crumbled dry leaves, per mug. Steep in just boiled water for 5 minutes, strain and drink.
Dose: Can be drunk all day long. You can make double-strength tea or a decoction to treat diarrhea. Drink a cupful every hour as needed.
-flu and fevers
-Pick berries when ripe. Check heel where they come off the stem. You want the ones that is still white or pale green. If it has gone purple, or dark, you don’t want it for this remedy.
-Put berries in a glass bowl, and pour enough white wine vinegar to cover them. -Cover and let sit for 1-2 days, then crush fruit with a potato masher or something similar. Strain juice through a sieve or jelly bag into measuring cup. Take note of how much liquid you have.
-Pour in saucepan, and bring to a boil. Turn off heat, and add half the volume worth of honey. Stir until dissolved.
-Pour in clean jars, label, and keep in cool, dark area. Does not have to be refrigerated. You can also pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Store in bags in the freezer.
-To use your oxymel, mix one tablespoon with a cup of hot water and drink before bed, or drink frequently to help relieve a cold.
As always, you can find wonderful information on Foraging Texas with great pictures to help you identify wild blackberries if you can’t already.
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Emma Lee Joy