I’m pretty sure that I don’t have to describe to you what blackberries look like, as they are the quintessential foraging food. Ever since I was a kid I have been collecting wild blackberries from mid to late summer. I remember my little sister and I would start checking the local blackberry patch in late July, keeping a close watch as they started to ripen. Once they were ready, Mom would give us colanders to collect them in so that they could be easily washed once we came home. It was always fun when our older siblings came to pick with us as they could reach the best berries, although we always brought a step stool with us as well. We would be there for hours, sometimes for multiple days in a row, just to collect enough blackberries so that Mom could make cobbler. This was our whole motivation, beyond the handfuls of blackberries that we ate while picking. Foraging for blackberries is the gateway to all sorts of wild food harvesting!
Blackberries are easy to identify as they form thick briar patches that can be hard to eradicate. They are brambles that are often thought of as an invasive and noxious weed. The Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus, is native to Armenia and Northern Iran, but has become commonplace in the Pacific Northwest, among other areas of the United States.
The other main species is the Cutleaf Evergreen Blackberry, Rubus laciniatus, which is native to Europe and has been introduced into North America. It has a different leaf shape than the Himalayan and its berries seem to take longer to ripen, at least around here. They are still red at the time of writing this, so I will keep you posted when I harvest them as they are supposed to have an excellent tasting berry.
Dewberries are in the same family as blackberries, but they trail along the ground rather than forming dense briar patches.
I’m going to pause for a quick moment here to tell you about my opinion on “invasive” species and non native “weeds,” and this might surprise (and possibly irritate) some of you. Since learning about permaculture, I have come to the state of mind that plants are plants of this earth, just like people are people of this earth. So why do we try and eradicate and spray them, especially plants that give us food and medicine? We will never, ever get rid of blackberry brambles no matter how hard we try and how much poison we spray on them, so we should probably just accept them for what they are and the benefits they give to us. I actually plan on doing a whole post on my opinion on this subject in the near future, so watch out for that!
Most blackberry species (except dewberries) grow by curving the end of their canes back to the ground, which will root again. This is part of what makes them so prolific.
They also grow extremely well in marginal conditions, such as roadsides and other disturbed areas. Please be careful wherever you pick blackberries and make sure that they have not been sprayed! This is extra important with blackberries, because it has become such a common practice.
Picking blackberries is one of the most fun and rewarding of late summer activities. The biggest problem you will have is that all of the best berries seem to be out of reach! Joel made this great blackberry picker for that very reason.
The berries go right down the PVC pipe into a bag! The picking end of the pipe looks like this:
Beyond berries, however, blackberry leaves are also a great medicinal, just like raspberries. They are astringent and can be dried and made into a tea for diarrhea. They are also good for oral care and sore throats.
If you don’t have any blackberry leaves to forage, or if it’s the wrong time of year, you can always buy dried blackberry leaves from Mountain Rose Herbs (my favorite place to buy high quality, organic herbs).
There are so many great uses for blackberries and their leaves! They practically grow everywhere and are super easy to identify, which makes them ideal for first time foragers. Plus, the berries are so tasty it makes all the thorns worth it!
Here are some more posts for further reading on blackberries:
- How to Build a Trellis for Blackberries and Blackberry Jam from One Acre Vintage Homestead
- One Gallon of Blackberry Mead and Blackberry Cordial & Simple Syrup from Pixie’s Pocket
- Foraging for Dewberries from Vermont Mango Plantation
- Fresh Blackberry Cobbler from Better Hens and Gardens
- Blackberry Banana Ice Cream from One Acre Farm
- Blackberry Syrup from One Ash Farm and Dairy Homestead
Hope you have fun foraging for blackberries!