FLOing WILD: Blackberries
by Marilu Dempsey
Blackberries are called Brambles (ie: prickly) for good reason.  Brambles have been used in Europe for over 200 years, not only for eating and medicinal purposes, but as a way to keep out marauders.  

They are aggressively thorny, with sharp thorns along the stems and mid-rib of the leaves.  Wear long sleeves and pants when you go picking.

One gallon milk cartons with the top cut off work well as containers.  Collect only berries that are completely black, and come off the bush easily.   Place berries in a large bowl; rinse well with cold water and remove stems.  

Blackberries are tasty raw or cooked, but because the sugar content is low they are tangy, and you will probably want to add sugar.

Chemicals present in blackberries are gallic acid and tannin.   Large amounts of tannin give blackberry leaves and roots an astringent effect that may be useful for treating diarrhea.  Tannins can cause nausea in people with sensitive stomachs.

Blackberries have one of the highest levels of antioxidants, natural substances that slow the aging process.  The plant is known to have medicinal properties, and is used by herbalists to treat dysentery.  The ancient Greeks used blackberry extract as a remedy for gout.

Blackberries are an important food source for wildlife, including black bear, deer, rabbit, and numerous songbirds.  Deer also eat the leaves and woody shoots.   The thickets make good shelter and nesting areas.  And snakes love the thick brambles as much as bees and other nectar seeking insects love the flowers.

Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun;
John Keats,  Ode to Autumn

Blackberry, AKA: Bramble, Bumble-kite, Scaldhead, Cloudberry, Dewberry, Bly, Thimbleberry
blackberries blackberry bush
left courtesy of:    
right courtesy of:   http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/senior/
The blackberry ‘cane’ is an arching, thorny, woody stem.   Where the tip touches ground, it takes root and spreads.

Leaves – sharp-toothed and pointed, compound with 3 to 5 leaflets - the middle leaflet is the largest.

Flowers - small five-petaled white flowers growing in clusters located on the end of stems.

Fruit - actually small clusters of tiny druplets, each with a single seed.   The receptacle detaches with the fruit.  Ripe fruit are soft, shiny black, and tart and flavorful.

Blackberries are extremely prolific, I saw websites devoted to “How to eradicate the blackberry,” where it is viewed as a non-native and invasive weed.  They grow along dirt roads or at the edge of clearings, and will take over open land if left unattended.

Don’t pick berries from bushes growing along roads and RR right-of-ways; they may be sprayed with toxic chemicals.

Weird but true:   Blackberries are not true berries.   (True berries include blueberry and cranberry.)   A berry is a “fleshy fruit containing one or more seeds, which develops from a single ovary.   While both tomatoes and eggplants are “berries,” raspberries, blackberries, and all their many varieties, are not.

Weird but true 2:   A bramble bush’s natural arch was at one time believed to be a magical aid to healing.  It was said to mystically cure boils, rheumatism, whooping cough, and even blackheads.  On a sunny day the "patient" would crawl through the arch backwards and forwards 3 times, going as close to east to west as possible.   If you try this, be aware that poison ivy and poison oak are often found intertwined with blackberry vines.  Maybe that was the “cure,” with the itching and burning from poison ivy, you would forget all about your original complaint.  

Blackberries make a great topping for icecream, and are also good in shakes.   They can be substituted for half the apples in almost any apple recipe.   Or just sprinkle them with a little sugar, and eat them raw.

Medicinal Blackberry Leaf Tea
Today used by herbalists to treat dysentery & sore throats.
      •  1 pint boiling water
      •  1 oz dried leaves (from first year ‘cane’ – no fruit will be on it)
      •  sugar or honey to taste
Pour boiling water over leaves and steep for 10 minutes.
Drink one tea-cup at a time, up to 3 times a day.

For more information & links:   http://www.backyardnature.net
Tips for Safe Foraging:                http://www.care2.com/channels/solutions/food/463