One of the best fruits to forage for during the late summer and early fall in zones 5-10 are wild blackberries.
In this article we will discuss how to forage not only for the blackberries themselves but for the plant too, so that you can grow these delicious, nutritious superfoods at home for free.
We’ll also explain the difference between wild blackberries and wild black raspberries (did you know there was a difference?) and provide lots of facts about the wild blackberry fruit and plant.
Blackberries vs Black Raspberries
Wild black raspberries are also a wonderful berry to forage for during a pretty short 2-3 week window in early summer.
The black raspberry is as its name implies, is a type of raspberry and like any raspberry, when it is picked the stem pulls out of the berry and is left on the plant, leaving the fruit hollow.
When a blackberry is picked, the stem remains inside. This stem vs no stem is the easiest way to determine if you have a raspberry or a blackberry.
Another difference is that wild black raspberries mature several weeks before wild blackberries do.
Black raspberries mature in the early summer and wild blackberries mature in the late summer and early fall in Ohio and similar zones.
Another difference is that black raspberries are usually softer, smaller, and sweeter, with a dull sheen to them.
Blackberries on the other hand tend to be harder, shinier, have a more tart or even slight bitter note, and have larger seeds (and the previously mentioned stem) making them somewhat more chewy.
Both berries are delicious and have many uses. Our favorite use for both is picking them and immediately popping them into our mouths before we can even get back home!
Blackberry plants tend to have sharper, larger thorns as well.
Where to find wild blackberries
Wild blackberries can be found on the edges of the woods and in open prairies. They won’t be found in the forest, but rather on the trail edges because they like sunlight.
Take a hike in blackberry country in the summer and you are bound to come across lots of them. Look for large bushy, heavily thorned plants with sweet smelling five-petal flowers that over time turn into green or white unripe berries. Once the berries begin to ripen, they turn red and then dark purple / black.
Wild blackberry leaves are compound with 3-7 leaflets per grouping. See the photograph. The young shoots / canes have light green leaves with green stems and the second year canes have darker green leaves with bark covered stems.
Be cautious that poison ivy is known to grow along with blackberries.
Remember that poison ivy always has 3 leaflets, does not ever have thorns, and although can sometimes have notched leaves, does not have serrated leaves as many blackberry varieties do.
When in doubt, consult a field guide or stay away, but having said that, blackberry is pretty darn easy to recognize once you see it out in the wild.
Also, remember that blackberries have large sharp thorns!
Once you locate a lush patch of blackberries note where they are because they are perennial and will grow in that spot for years to come.
Additionally, if you come across a plant that is not yet ripe, make a note to come back during picking season.
Benefits of blackberries
Blackberries are definitely a superfood. According to Nutrition data.self.com, 1 cup of blackberries has 62 calories, 8g of dietary fiber, 2g of protein, and 50% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin c.
They are also a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Folate, Magnesium, Potassium and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Manganese.
Another interesting thing about the blackberry is that each little round part of the berry is technically its own berry with its own seed inside, and what you are eating is actually a multiple-berry cluster.
This is a reason why blackberries are more chewy.
According to usagardener.com blackberries have the following uses:
- The fruit can be made into syrups, jams, and other preserves
- The cooked root can be eaten if it is picked when it is neither too young nor too old and requires a lot of boiling.
- A tea is can be made from the dried leaves – the young leaves are best. The leaves are often used in herbal tea blends.
- Young shoots can be harvested and eaten raw as they emerge through the ground in the spring, peeled and then eaten in salads.
- For medicinal purposes, the root-bark and the leaves are strongly astringent, depurative, diuretic, tonic and vulnerary. They make an excellent remedy for dysentery, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, cystitis etc, the root is the more astringent.
- Externally, they are used as a gargle to treat sore throats, mouth ulcers and gum inflammations. A decoction of the leaves is useful as a gargle in treating thrush and also makes a good general mouthwash.
- Other uses include a purple to dull blue dye is obtained from the fruit. A fibre is obtained from the stem and used to make twine.
Note, that we personally have only eaten the berries and cannot attest to the effectiveness of processing the roots, leaves, etc., nor have we used the plant for any medicinal purposes though we may experiment with some of this in the future, after some additional research.
How to bring home live blackberry plants and add them to your garden
Blackberry plants can be propagated in a number of ways including transplanting, taking branch or root cuttings, digging out the suckers, or even using the tips to root a new plant.
When you come across a blackberry plant and it is acceptable to dig up the plant, roots and all, this can be done and the plant has a very good chance of coming up next year in your garden.
Concentrate on getting the roots and lower branches and cut off the tops if needed.
A more practical approach would be to take a cutting and bring it home and propagate it the way you would with any cutting. We’ll discuss root propagation in other articles, but if you have taking cuttings before, go ahead and try this with the wild blackberry.
Another trick with blackberries and other plants that send up suckers is to dig out a sucker and bring it home for transplanting.
Suckers are the new plant shoots that grow at the base of the main plant. Often suckers will have their own separate roots attached which is the best, but if you cannot find one like this, dig and take as much of the sucker as you can get to, bring it home, trim off some of the bark from the section that was underground, and transplant it to the garden.
Another way to propagate blackberries, although not practical for foraging, is to take the tip of a blackberry stem and bend it over and bury the tip under the soil. You may have to tie it down or place something on top of it so that it does not come back out of the soil.
By next spring, the tip can be dug up and there will be roots on it. Cut it free from the plant and transplant it into your garden.
Finally, blackberries could be regrown from seed. The seeds are inside the blackberry clusters. Because of the effectiveness of the other ways, we have not tried this way yet.
How to grow blackberry plants
When considering growing blackberry plants on your property it is important to know what you are getting into. Blackberry plants can easily grow to 10 feet tall and ten feet wide, and as mentioned, have very hellacious thorns. If you choose, thornless varieties can be purchased from garden centers.
Many people consider blackberries to be too unwieldy and spread too rapidly for use at the home, but we disagree. As long as you have a place for them to thrive, they can provide many benefits.
For example, a well placed blackberry patch along the back border of your property for example can provide privacy as well as keep out people and animals, even deer!
No living thing wants to run through a mature wild blackberry patch. A well placed blackberry patch can serve as a living fence that provides delicious food.
Another benefit to growing wild blackberry plants is that they require no maintenance whatsoever, and will thrive in a large variety of soils.
Some may disagree with this statement, but we grow wild blackberry and have never once watered or fertilized, or even weeded.
Depending on the area of your patch, of course, it may be necessary to prune back or even dig out unwanted stems as the plant spreads out.
The main drawback to blackberries is that they do spread and try to take over, so it is best to keep them on the outskirts of your property and definitely away from the main vegetable and flower patches.
Some folks have had success interplanting them with grape vine, but we prefer to keep ours in a place all to itself, and prune back as needed.
Blackberry can be used to hide unsightly things in your yard as well, such as a chain link fence or other feature that you would rather move to the background.
Remember that you will not want to place blackberries in high traffic areas or places where children will be running and playing because of the thorns.
A Note on Berry Production
As with grapes and raspberries, a blackberry plant sends up canes that live for 2 years and then die.
The first year canes are lighter in color and have green stems. These first year canes do not produce fruit.
During the second year, the canes develop bark and turn a darker green, and during late summer begin to produce fruit.
The plant will send up new first year canes so that the process can start over, thereby allowing the plant to produce fruit every year after year 1.
At any given point, the plant will have fruit-producing canes and new canes. It is possible to increase fruit production by pinching off the ends of the first year canes to encourage additional branching that will produce additional flowering points next year.
If you are proficient with grape growing, this 2-year cycle makes sense, but if not, don’t worry because if left alone with no pruning, you will have tons of fruit anyway!
Have fun and don’t sweat it
Good luck in your future foraging and growing of blackberries
Have experience in this? Post a comment and let us know what works for you! Good luck foraging and growing wild delicious blackberries.