Written by Roxci Bevis, DRBIPA Program Coordinator – July 28, 2020
There sure is an abundance of blackberries in our neck of the woods right now and they are ready for harvest. Isn’t berry season the best? Celebrating these delicious and beautiful berries is easy. Especially while they seemingly line every gulley, trench, and trail around town.
Did you know this naturally sweet treat is not actually a berry at all? They are a flowering rubus fruit and part of the Rosaceae family, along with roses. No wonder they have such wonderfully scented and delicate white and pink flowers. Is it even possible to wander past an overgrown patch of blooming blackberries and not breathe in with delight at the remarkable aroma? From leaf to bud and flower to fruit, the blackberry lifecycle is a work of art for nature lovers.
Luckily for us, blackberries are everywhere! Now is the time of year to find local blackberries at the farmers’ market or to forage for them on our own. Cultivated widely by producers in our area for sale, the most well-known variety of blackberry is the Himalayan blackberry. Though this variety is an invasive plant. Most of the blackberries we see along roads, trails, and open areas are the invasive kind. They are quite hard to manage, threaten native plant species, and spread rapidly when not contained. Since birds love these tasty fruits as much as us humans do, they happily eat them and spread the seeds; along with deer, raccoons, and other animals.
Our region is home to one native blackberry variety. The pacific trailing blackberry, originally known as sqw’il’muxw to some of the First Nations throughout the unceded Coast Salish territories along the west coast. This trailing fruit often crawls along the forest floor and appears more like a vine than a bush, compared to the well-known and invasive Himalayan blackberry variety. The trailing blackberry is non-invasive, it does not disrupt the natural ecosystem. It lives in harmony with other native plants like the salmonberry, red huckleberry, and sword fern.
Different varieties of blackberries grow wild along the south coast of BC. And if you don’t mind getting a few prickles here and there, they can easily be foraged in areas where fruit picking is safe and permissible. There are so many places to find wild blackberries but be sure to avoid areas where picking is prohibited, like our regional and provincial parks. Remember that wild berries don’t grow as quickly as they do on farms. Completely clearing patches of wild berries while foraging is never okay because some animals depend on them for their diet. There are, however, still plenty to go around, and will be for the next few weeks.
If you plan on picking blackberries, here are some tips for a more enjoyable experience:
- Don’t eat any berries you cannot identify with 100% certainty – some berries are poisonous
- If picking in high-traffic city areas, it is best to wash berries before snacking or baking with them
- Due to thorns and brambles, wear sturdy shoes or boots and long sleeves and pants
- Blackberries don’t ripen once they’re off the stem so make sure they are ripe – ripe blackberries are black all over and should fall off the stem with a light touch
- Wearing gloves can make it harder to tell if blackberries are ripe while picking them – though it is also critical to avoid spraying bug spray on bare hands when picking because the taste of the spray will transfer to berries
- Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, but if needed, removing blackberry stains from clothes is possible – soak the stains in white vinegar as soon as possible and leave to sit for 30-60 minutes, then rinse with cold water and wash as usual
Staying prepared for everything nature and the weather can throw our way makes a big difference when foraging. Due to the risk of bears in wild areas, it is smart to go with a family member or friend and keep the noise level up. Lookout for stinging nettle and poison ivy, these can sometimes be a hazard of berry picking in forested wetlands. No matter what, gathering a pail of berries while spending time outdoors getting some fresh air and exercise makes it a worthwhile activity, for sure.
Blackberries are great fresh and when used for desserts, jams, purees, smoothies, freezing, and so much more. The antioxidant benefits of this vitamin-filled fruit is there whatever way you enjoy them. The leaves of blackberries also have traditional medicinal uses, such as making teas from the leaves for stomach ache remedies, or from the roots for diarrhea. Aren’t blackberries incredible?
A fruit worthy of praise! And since berry season will be over sooner than we think, let’s not miss the chance to appreciate these edible gems while we can.