(adapted from Eat Your Weeds!The Forager's Cookbook, p24)

Blackberry or bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) is the king of weeds, whose tasty berries tempt us to put up with its rampant ways. Going brambling is one of the few remaining communal or family foraging activities that draw us into the wild.

In Eat your Weeds! we suggest no fewer than 19 survival attributes that make blackberry an unstoppable weed. Here are three. Blackberry’s backward-pointing spines help the shoots force a way through competing foliage but, as we all know, cannot be withdrawn without tearing your skin. The shoots themselves grow rapidly and put down new roots when they hit land. The ripe fruit is sweet and ‘pippy’, with sturdy seeds that pass through the stomach unharmed, whether of a bird, a wild animal or your own.

Blackberry also has time-honoured medicinal properties, with a focus on its astringency. This refers to the way the plant contracts and dries our tissues, which we may recognise from eating sour things that make our mouth pucker. Herbalists value astringency for strengthening the gums, for treating mouth ulcers and cystitis, and easing diarrhoea. These qualities were known to the ancient Greeks, and we too can benefit from them by boiling up some blackberry leaf tea.

This tea can also be used externally as a hair rinse or as a lotion for easing sunburn and minor burns. See Hedgerow MedicineBackyard Medicine, p35 for more blackberry herbal medicine recipes.

A Scottish riddle

As white as snow. But snow it’s not.
As red as blood. But blood it’s not.
As black as ink. But ink it’s not.
Answer: bramble.
– anon.

It is difficult to overestimate the faith people once had in the healing powers of this plant.
– Maida Silverman, A City Herbal (1977)

Blackberry flummery

Flummeries developed in the 17th century and evolved from an oatmeal-based pudding to more or less any soft-set pudding. This vegan alternative is adapted from a recipe left by Julie’s Australian grandmother, blackberries being an invasive species in Australasia.

Wash 4 cups ripe blackberries.

Combine in a saucepan with 125ml (0.5 cup) hot water and 250g (1.25 cups) sugar, plus a dash of salt and cinnamon.

Bring mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until contents are slightly syrupy (about 5–8 minutes).

Separately mix 3 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch) into a smooth paste.

Blend this paste into the hot blackberry mixture. Stir while cooking until it is thick and slightly translucent (about 3–5 minutes).

Pour into a serving bowl, and serve when cool. This amount serves 6.