Blackberries or Bramble, the Humblest of the Wild Fruits
Updated: Sep 7
The humble blackberry or bramble, easy to identify and the starting point for even the newest of foragers, but what do we really know about it?
For most, the blackberry or to give it its Latin name ‘Rubus fruticosus’ is one of the most identifiable of wild fruits in the UK. I would propose that this is the most picked or foraged for of all the Wild Foods! Instantly recognisable, even the most urbanite of us can identify it, why? Who knows, but maybe it’s just because they are so tasty and our mouth’s are subconsciously programmed to water when seeing them, our brains instantly recognising them as a tasty food source.
Blackberries are a popular and widely recognised fruit that grows on thorny bushes in various parts of the world. Known for their distinctive dark colour, sweet-tart flavour, and numerous health benefits, blackberries have been enjoyed for centuries. In this article, we will explore identification, the different types of blackberries, plus the medicinal and edible uses of blackberries.
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Bramble vs Blackberry: what's in a name?
Are blackberries and brambles the same? Not quite, "Bramble" and "blackberry" are related terms often used interchangeably, but they refer to slightly different things in the context of berries and plants:
Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus): Blackberry is a specific type of fruit-bearing plant that belongs to the Rubus genus. It produces delicious, sweet, and juicy blackberries, which are commonly consumed as a fruit or used in various culinary applications like pies, jams, and desserts. Blackberries are known for their distinctive dark purple to black colour when ripe and their sweet-tart flavour. They grow on arching canes and are a popular berry in many parts of the world.
Bramble: A "bramble" is a more general term used to describe a thorny, tangled shrub or thicket, often made up of various plant species within the Rubus genus. Blackberry plants are a type of bramble, but other berries, such as raspberries and dewberries, also belong to the Rubus genus and are considered part of the bramble family. Brambles are characterised by their prickly stems, which are often difficult to navigate due to their thorny nature.
In summary, "blackberry" typically refers to the specific fruit produced by the Rubus fruticosus plant, while "bramble" is a broader term that encompasses various berry-producing plants within the Rubus genus, including blackberries, raspberries, and other related species.
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Where can you find Blackberries?
Wild Blackberries or Brambles are very common and can be found throughout the UK. They literally get everywhere, there wandering habit is down to the success of the fruit, humans aren’t the only wildlife that loves this most generous of plants! Blackberries are also native to several regions around the world and can be found in the wild in various habitats.
When searching for wild blackberries, look for areas with ample sunlight, well-drained soil, and a mix of open spaces and vegetation. Blackberries are often found along the edges of fields, trails, or in disturbed areas where they can receive enough sunlight to grow. It's worth noting that blackberries tend to grow in dense thickets, so be prepared for thorny bushes and wear protective clothing when foraging.
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Identification of Blackberries or Brambles
Although the blackberry is commonly known and recognised it’s not the one plant or species that we know but a collection of micro species. It is presumed that there are over 400 different species of wild blackberry or brambles in the UK alone. Blackberries belong to the Rosaceae family and the Rubus genus, which also includes raspberries and dewberries. These berries are typically found growing on deciduous shrubs with thorny canes. Each plant or cane spreads by firstly growing toward the sky then when long enough bending to touch the soil, spreading roots and setting off again. The canes are long and arching, and they often form dense thickets in open fields, woodlands, and disturbed areas.
To properly identify blackberries, look out for the following characteristics:
Blackberry leaves are compound and consist of three to five oval-shaped leaflets with serrated edges. The leaves are usually green in colour and have a fuzzy texture on the underside.
The canes of brambles are typically green or reddish-brown and covered in sharp thorns. They grow upright at first and then arch over as they mature.
Blackberry bushes produce small, white to pale pink flowers in clusters. These flowers have five petals and are usually around 3cm’s or so in diameter.
The fruits of brambles are the most recognisable feature. They are small, round or elongated berries that start out green and turn gradually red before ripening to a deep purplish-black colour.
Blackberries have numerous small drupelets that give them a unique, textured appearance. Nature as usual is successful through subtlety, each cane doesn’t allow its fruit to ripen all at once, that strategy may end up as failure as one greedy black bird or forager may be able to feast on its blackberries in one meal, limiting the range and distribution of its seeds.
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Can you eat Wild Blackberries?
Most definitely, wild blackberries are safe to consume and are often relished as a delectable and nutritious wild edible. Recognisable by their dark purple to black hue and cluster of small drupelets, these berries thrive in diverse natural habitats, including woodlands, fields, and road edges. Before indulging in wild blackberries, it is essential to accurately identify them. Opt for ripe, undamaged berries, and ensure a thorough washing to eliminate dirt, insects, and impurities. As with any foraged foods, exercise caution if you have plant or berry allergies and maintain environmental respect by picking in moderation and avoiding areas potentially contaminated by pollutants.
Types and Species of Wild Blackberries in the UK
In the UK, there are several different species of blackberries, also known as brambles, that can be found. Here are some common species:
Rubus fruticosus: This is the most widespread and well-known species of bramble in the UK. It produces large, sweet, and juicy blackberries and is often found growing wild in hedgerows, woodlands, and gardens. There are several cultivated varieties of Rubus fruticosus as well, including 'Thornless Evergreen' and 'Apache.'
Rubus ulmifolius: Also known as the elm-leaf blackberry, this species is less common than Rubus fruticosus but can still be found in parts of the UK. It has slightly smaller berries and is characterized by its distinctive leaves, which resemble those of an elm tree.
Rubus laciniatus: Commonly known as the cut-leaved or evergreen blackberry, this species has deeply lobed leaves, giving it a unique appearance. It produces sweet and juicy blackberries and is often cultivated for its ornamental value.
Rubus allegheniensis: Also called the Allegheny blackberry, this species is native to North America but has been naturalized in parts of the UK. It has larger fruits compared to Rubus fruticosus and is known for its excellent flavour.
Rubus caesius: Known as the dewberry or European blackberry, this species produces small, juicy berries. It is more low-growing and trailing compared to other blackberry species and is often found in open grasslands, heaths, and coastal areas.
These are just a few examples of wild blackberry species that can be found in the UK. It's worth noting that blackberries can hybridise easily, leading to numerous variations and hybrids in the wild and cultivated varieties. If you love your blackberries like I do, you’ll have a number of locations that you prefer to collect this abundant fruit. In particular I have a location where the berries ripen early and the fruits are huge and sweet, this species of blackberry – although the name or genotype is unknown to me – is my favourite. Flavours along with shape and size vary from species to species, so next time you are collecting taste (as if you needed an excuse) and try fruit from each new spot and compare, as the flavours vary hugely.
When are Wild Blackberries in Season?
The season for blackberries starts in August and there can be fruit on the plant until October, any fruit that persists after this period is bitter and flavourless and cannot even be used in jams. It’s not only the fruit that’s good either, the leaves make a great tea too and can be picked from spring right up to the first frosts.
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Edible Uses of Blackberries
So, the big deal, what do you do with them? Blackberries are of course delicious fresh from the bush. If you do prefer to eat them like this beware you are on a timer as even in the fridge they will not last longer than a day. So, if you are to keep them perhaps you should preserve them, freezing (as soon as you can) works well, you can preserve whole fruits in alcohol or make bramble gin or brandy, you can even dry them into a leather or of course preserve them in jams, jellies, chutneys and vinegars.
However, after I have eaten my share of fresh blackberries I like to cook with them. Wild blackberries are delicious and when you cook with them, the cooked blackberry can make many more, dare I say it, even more delicious things. When the bushes are heaving with fruits you’ll need to eat as much of them as possible, blackberries are not only delicious but also versatile in their culinary applications so they can, and should, be eaten at every meal!
Ways to Enjoy a Glut of Blackberries
Eat them fresh:
The simplest way to enjoy blackberries is to eat them fresh and raw. Enjoy them as a healthy snack or as part of a fruit salad. The berries can be eaten on their own or paired with other fruits and toppings like yogurt or whipped cream.
Smoothies and Juices:
Blackberries can be blended into smoothies or juiced to create refreshing and nutritious beverages. Combine them with other fruits, yogurt, or milk for a delicious and healthy drink.
Baking and Desserts:
Blackberries are a popular ingredient in various baked goods and desserts. They can be used to make cobblers, crumbles, tarts, and muffins. Blackberry jams, jellies, and preserves are also common and can be spread on toast or used as a topping for pancakes, waffles, or ice cream. They can be used in fruit salads, fruit parfaits, fruit tarts, fruit crisps, and cobblers. Blackberry ice cream, sorbet, and gelato are also delicious options.
Bramble fruits can be used in the simplest of desserts or the more complex, why not try something more complicated for a dinner party or mix them with other wild fruits in this wild berry summer pudding. Or perhaps where they really belong is in desserts; baked into brulee and blackberry clafoutis, rippled through ice cream or of course baked in a pie!
Blackberries can be incorporated into a range of beverages. They are often used to make refreshing blackberry lemonade or added to smoothies and milkshakes for a burst of flavour. Additionally, blackberries can be used in the production of wines, liqueurs, and cordials.
Jams and Preserves:
Wild blackberries make excellent jams, jellies, and preserves. Their natural sweetness and tanginess are perfect for spreading on toast, scones, or biscuits. You can also use blackberry preserves as a filling for pastries.
Sauces and Syrups:
Blackberries can be cooked down into sauces and syrups. These can be drizzled over pancakes, waffles, or cheesecakes, or used as a topping for grilled meats like chicken, duck or pork. Blackberry sauces can also be used as a base for marinades or glazes.
Blackberries can add a pop of colour and sweetness to salads. Toss them into green salads or grain-based salads for a refreshing and flavourful twist.
Blackberry vinegar is a tangy and delicious condiment that can be used in salad dressings, marinades, or even as a standalone ingredient. It is made by infusing blackberries in vinegar and allowing the flavours to meld together over time.
Freezing and Preserving:
Blackberries can be frozen for long-term storage. Wash the berries, pat them dry, and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer until the berries are frozen solid, then transfer them to a freezer bag or airtight container. Frozen blackberries can be used in smoothies.
You can infuse blackberries in liquids like water, vinegar, or alcohol to create flavourful beverages or dressings. Blackberry-infused water or vinegar can be used in cocktails, mocktails, or homemade salad dressings.
If you have an abundance of wild blackberries, you can dry them to enjoy as a snack or use as an ingredient in trail mixes, granola bars, or baked goods.
Can you eat Bramble Leaves?
Perhaps less widely known is that the young leaves and shoots in the spring and early summer are delicious as well. Gather them while the thorns are still fully soft to the touch and the shoots snap off crisply.
Medicinal uses of Blackberries
Did I mention that brambles are hugely good for you too? Anti-cancer and benefits for eye health, skin health, digestive health, bone health, cardiovascular health. Blackberries have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries due to their rich nutrient content and potential health benefits. Here are some more medicinal uses associated with blackberries:
Blackberries are packed with antioxidants, including anthocyanins, which give them their deep purple colour. Antioxidants help protect the body against damage from harmful free radicals, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and neurological disorders.
Blackberries contain compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, such as polyphenols and flavonoids. These compounds may help reduce inflammation in the body, which is associated with various health conditions, including arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.
Blackberries are a good source of dietary fibre, which promotes healthy digestion. The fibre content in blackberries can help regulate bowel movements, prevent constipation, and support overall gut health.
Immune system support:
Blackberries are rich in vitamin C, which plays a vital role in supporting the immune system. Vitamin C helps boost the production of white blood cells, enhances immune function, and protects against common illnesses like colds and flu.
The anthocyanins and other antioxidants found in blackberries may help promote cardiovascular health. They can help reduce inflammation, improve blood vessel function, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Some studies suggest that the antioxidants in blackberries may have neuroprotective effects, potentially helping to improve cognitive function and memory. These effects are believed to be due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the berries.
The antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin found in blackberries are beneficial for eye health. These compounds help protect the eyes from oxidative damage and may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
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Blackberries are delicious and versatile fruits that can be used in a variety of recipes. Here are a few more ideas for blackberry recipes you can try:
Wild Blackberry Pie:
A classic dessert that highlights the natural sweetness of blackberries. Combine fresh blackberries with sugar, lemon juice, and a little cornflour to make the filling. Pour it into a prepared pie crust, cover with a second crust, and bake until golden brown.
Make your own homemade blackberry jam to spread on toast, pancakes, or use as a filling for pastries. Simmer blackberries with sugar and lemon juice until thickened. Transfer to sterilised jars and seal for long-term storage.
Blend blackberries with yogurt, milk (or a dairy-free alternative), honey, and ice for a refreshing and nutritious smoothie. You can add other fruits like bananas or strawberries for extra flavour.
Toss fresh blackberries with mixed greens, crumbled feta cheese, toasted nuts (such as almonds or walnuts), and a simple vinaigrette dressing. It's a great combination of sweet and savoury flavours.
Make a wild blackberry crumble by layering fresh blackberries in a baking dish and topping them with a mixture of oats, flour, brown sugar, and butter. Bake until the berries are bubbling and the topping is golden and crispy. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, perhaps a drizzle of your blackberry vinegar too.
Add blackberries to your favourite muffin recipe for a burst of flavour. Mix them into the batter gently to avoid crushing them. Blueberry muffin recipes can easily be adapted for blackberries.
Simmer blackberries with sugar and a little water until they break down and form a thick sauce. Serve the sauce over pancakes, waffles, or ice cream for a delicious treat.
Blackberry Yoghurt Ice Lollies:
Blend blackberries with Greek yogurt, honey, and a little lemon juice. Pour the mixture into lolly moulds and freeze until firm. A refreshing and healthy summer treat. Kids love them.
Combine diced blackberries with chopped red onion, jalapeño peppers, coriander, lime juice, and a pinch of salt. Serve as a topping for grilled fish or chicken, or enjoy with nachos.
These are just a few ideas to get you started with blackberry recipes. Get creative and experiment with blackberries in various dishes to enjoy their unique flavour. They really do go with most things.
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The blackberry or as we now know, ‘family of blackberries’ could be one of nature’s most generous plants, generous not just because of its plentiful fruit, but also because of its eye catching looks, long fruiting season and widespread and common nature.
The humble brambles delicious fruits are accessible to the most experienced of foragers through to the newest and novice of wild food enthusiasts and so can be enjoyed by all.
Ths berries versatile flavour is adaptable and lends itself to the sweet as well as the savoury or can just be enjoyed straight from the plant. So many great memories are made up from countless hours rustling around in hedgerows foraging for this black gold and the season starts right now!
…… So what are you waiting for, get your gloves and punnets and go get some!
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