Blackberry

R u b u s fruticosus

Blackberry or bramble is one of the most familiar and also most aggressive of berry plants. The protective spines demand respect, but the berries and leaves offer medicinal rewards that repay the inevitable scratches of picking.

Rosaceae Rose family

Description: A thorny, sprawling bush with white or pink flowers and black berries.

Habitat: Widespread in hedgerows, woods, and on waste ground.

Distribution: Widespread. Native to temperate Europe but naturalized in North America and Australasia.

Related species: Blackberry is actually an aggregate of many taxonomically challenging species. It is related to dewberry (R. caesius), which has fruits with fewer, large segments and a blue bloom, and raspberry (R. idaeus).

Parts used: Leaves, gathered in early summer, berries harvested when ripe.

The poet Walt Whitman wrote this about blackberry in "Song of Myself' (1855):

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars/ ... and the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven.

In more sober judgment, Jonathan Roberts's history of fruit and vegetables (2001) calls blackberry a "primitive thug." Sorry to say, Roberts is probably closer to the truth. Blackberry always has been an aggressive settler on waste or cleared land, using an array of effective spreading mechanisms.

It is promiscuous in hybridizing with similar thorny trailing plants of the rose family (over 2,000 blackberry "species" have been described in Europe); then, it has tasty berries to spread its seeds, which pass unharmed through birds and humans alike; its young shoots bend to the ground and start fresh roots; its thorns hook on to adjacent foliage and help spread the plant laterally; and its dense ground cover shuts off most competing plants.

The old ironic name of "lawyers" for blackberries has been exported from England to the United States: in either case, once in their clutches you will never escape! (Perhaps the makers of the handheld wireless device of the same name hoped for the same sense of being captured by their product.)

Highlanders in Scotland had a high opinion of blackberry. Its Gaelic name was an druise bennaichte , meaning "blessed bramble." This referred to Jesus supposedly using a bramble switch when riding his donkey to Jerusalem to evict the moneylenders from the temple. Highlanders made wreaths of ivy, bramble, and rowan as protection against evil.

Blackberry has been spread from the temperate north around the world apart from the tropics. New Zealand has become overrun to such an extent that there is a saying: there are only two brambles in New Zealand, one covering North Island and one South Island. In Australia it is a notifiable pest that must be destroyed wherever found; over 9 million hectares of land have been infested.

Blackberries are the most commonly used natural fruit in Great Britain. ... The fruit, so beloved of wine and jam makers, has rich medicinal properties, full of vitamin C and minerals, as are the leaves.

Blackberry hedges were used as defensive barriers around Native American settlements and in bygone Europe. Hedgerows containing blackberries make fields stockproof, which is another reason why they are so widespread.

Sleeping Beauty, in the legend, was protected for a hundred years by a thicket of blackberry or perhaps wild rose - either would have been impenetrable after even two years by any but a true lover!

Going blackberrying or brambling is an ancient social activity worldwide, and family expeditions to gather the delicious fruit are well within living memory, though happening less in Britain these days. In the Ozark mountains, where communal picking still goes on, the bramble harvest is called "black gold."

Perhaps because blackberry was and still is so successful in the wild it was only in the nineteenth century that it was grown as a commercial crop, in the United States. It was also in the States that Judge Logan developed a cross raspberry/blackberry, named the loganberry in his honor. The friendlier raspberry meanwhile had been domesticated in Britain by the sixteenth century.

A medieval illustration of blackberry

This is the most generous of plants, and it is in the wild that most of us would have it stay... Blackberry picking must be the most widespread remnant of collective aatherina in Dost-aaricultural.

industrialised communities. - Barker (2001)

We recommend you revive or continue the wild-picking habit because blackberries are so good for you and can be found almost everywhere. The ripe black fruit, as everyone knows, makes wonderful jams, jellies, preserves, pies, and cordials. The wine even stars in its own novel (Blackberry Wine, by Joanne Harris). But folklore dictates that you should not gather the berries after Michaelmas, because that is when the Devil spits or urinates on them. Or, we'd now say, the frost has got to them.

Bramble flowers can be pink or white, and often occur alongside ripe fruits

Use blackberry for...

In spring, blackberry shoots and the young leaves are a traditional European tonic, packed with vitamins and minerals, and used fresh as a tea. They can also be combined with raspberry leaves, young hawthorn leaves, and birch shoots or leaves.

The leaves and unripe fruit are good medicine too, for their astringency. In some places the leaves were chewed to allay headaches. Crushed blackberry leaves are exactly what you need as a styptic to treat small wounds or cuts incurred when picking the fruit; they also work for boils and swellings.

The main use of the leaf tea is as a folk remedy for diarrhea; the unripe red or green fruit can be used for the same purpose.

In the US Civil War of 1861-65 the ferocious hand-to-hand fighting in the woods was sometimes interrupted for "blackberry truces." Both sides would take time out to pick blackberry leaves for a tea to treat diarrhea and dysentery, which were rife in both armies.

The leaf tea is like a green tea, pleasant but with a tannin feel. It is also a welcome relief for problems of the mouth, such as ulcers and gum disease. It was once thought to strengthen teeth, and is an old remedy for soothing sore throats and treating colds and anemia. When cool, the tea makes a good skin lotion.

Bramble leaf tea

Bramble leaves should be picked in spring and summer while they are fresh and green. They can be used fresh for tea in season, or can be dried for the winter. Dry them in a shady place or indoors, until the leaves are brittle and crumble easily. Store in brown paper bags or in jars in a cool, dark place.

Bramble leaf tea

• general health

gingivitis

To make the tea, put a few fresh leaves or a rounded teaspoonful of crumbled dry leaves in a teapot. Pour on a mugful of boiling water, and allow to infuse for about 5 minutes, then strain and drink.

Dose: Can be drunk freely. Make double-strength to treat diarrhea, drinking a cupful every hour as needed.

Blackberry spread

This is a traditional recipe, sometimes called "blackberry butter," which is delicious with scones or on toast.

Put in a pan: 1 pound blackberries 1 pound tart apples, chopped up but not peeled or cored grated zest and juice of a lemon

Simmer gently for about 15 minutes, until soft and mushy. Rub the pulp through a sieve to remove the skins and pips. Weigh the pulp, and for every 4oz of pulp add 3oz of sugar.

Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer and stir until the mixture is thick and smooth - this usually takes about 20 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars, seal, and label.

Blackberry oxymel

Pick blackberries when they are ripe, checking that the heel, the place where they come off the stem, is white or pale green - if this has gone purple or dark, it's not a good one to use.

Put the blackberries in a china or glass bowl and pour on enough white wine vinegar just to cover them. Put a plate or a cloth over the bowl and leave it for a day or two, then crush the fruit with a potato masher. Strain the juice through a sieve or jelly bag into a measuring jug, then pour into a saucepan. Add half the volume of honey, then heat to melt the honey. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes, bottle and label. This syrup can also be frozen in an ice cube tray, and then stored in bags in the freezer.

To use: Mix one tablespoonful with a cup of hot water as a bedtime drink, or drink frequently to help relieve a cold.

Blackberry oxymel

• general health

Burdock

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