Maggie Pope
is a Medical Herbalist

Practising in
Bridgwater, Somerset

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November, 2011


Blackberry picking

A few weeks ago was the end of the blackberry season here in the South West. The common blackberry Rubus fructicosus L is ubiquitous, as Julian Barker says in his book The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe;

‘Understanding the full variability of the bramble is a specialist obsession, the elucidation of which has already taken more than a lifetime and is only just begun. Over 2000 ‘species’ have been described in Europe. The variation between different groups shows up as the arching of the stem, if and how it roots, and the detailed nature of prickles, glands and hairs. Fortunately for us, we can safely generalise: there is no other similar group of plant to confuse even the most urbanised blackberry-picker.

‘A clambering shrub with shoots lengths from 1-3 metres. Compound leaves with leaflets inn 3’s, 5’s or rarely 7’s, stipules present. Sepals fuse at their base to form a cup; the 5 ‘teeth’ are turned down in fruit, as when you open a banana. 5 white or pinkish petals are free as are the many stamens and numerous separate carpels which coalesce to form the aggregate fruit. Widespread and abundant in woods, hedges, scrub, heaths and open commons.

All you need is a container and off you go…

‘This is the most generous of wild plants and it is in the wild where most of us would have it stay. The understanding of its ancestry, speciation and progeny is likely to absorb the attention of a few generations of botanists yet. Blackberry picking must be the most widespread remnant of collective gathering in post-agricultural, industrialised communities. As well as food, the medicinal use of the leaves is ancient. However inconvenient the thorns may be, the Highland economy was no doubt grateful for the legitimate free wool they provided. It was thought improper to eat the fruits after Michaelmas because then the Devil had licence to defile them by spitting or urinating on them. Yes, they can taste a little queer late in the season!’ Julian Barker *

Take a friend and fill your containers

The blackberry has a long growing season, no matter how many you pick, there always seem to be more there when you go back a few days later. We don’t have to boil them all up at once into jams or syrups like our ancestors did. If we have too many to make into crumbles and pies we can freeze them and use them later. We like to defrost a pack and mash with a little icing sugar for instant fresh jam. It’s lovely, but store in the fridge as it doesn’t keep long.

Frozen on the day of picking

* Barker J, The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe, 2001, Winter Press, West Wickham




November 2011
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