20 Things You Didn’t Know About Blackberries

Himalayan Blackberries, photo by Adelia Ritchie
  1. A blackberry is actually not a fruit, but an aggregate fruit composed of drupelets.
  2. A peach is a drupe, for example, also known as a stone fruit. A blackberry is composed of small drupes, or drupelets.
  3. Wikipedia says that blackberry shrubs are known to tolerate poor soil, readily colonizing wasteland, ditches and vacant lots. What this really means is that blackberries are the most invasive, pernicious, hated weed this side of Kudzu.
  4. Blackberry (genus Rubus, family Rosaceae) is the unofficial State Weed of both Washington and Oregon. But even given its lowly status, the berries still cost $10.64/lb in Safeway last week.
  5. Blackberries have been eaten by humans for thousands of years. Research has recently shown that our mitochondrial DNA has actually incorporated blackberry gene sequences into our chromosomes. It is believed that the gods did this to ensure humans would be fruitful and multiply and cover the earth.
  6. A well-known cultivar, introduced by George F. Waldo in Corvallis, Oregon, in 1956, is the Marionberry. Contrary to what I first believed, this crazy fruit was not named after a former mayor of the District of Columbia.
  7. The blackberry tends to be red during its unripe (“green”) phase, leading to an old expression that “blackberries are red when they’re green.”
  8. Don’t buy blackberries from Mexico. There is no winter chilling there to stimulate flower bud development. So, in order to produce berries, growth regulators and chemical defoliation are used to bring the plants into bloom. Instead, come to my house in September, and you can pick a lifetime supply, for free. Please.
  9. If you’re British, you won’t be picking blackberries after Old Michaelmas Day (October 11th) because the devil will have claimed them, marking them with his urine. (Or it could have just been Farmer Brown relieving himself in the brambles. Dangerous for the farmer, though, if you think about it.)
  10. Blackberries are not to be confused with black raspberries, which look identical to blackberries, but apparently don’t taste like blackberries at all. Nor do they taste like raspberries.
  11. However, a variety of black raspberries, which taste exactly like black raspberries, but is neither black nor rasp (er, red), is the yellow black raspberry. You will know it when you see it.
  12. Rubus hybrids between red and black raspberries are common under the name ‘purple raspberries.’
  13. Blackberry tea was said to be a cure for dysentery during the Civil War. During outbreaks of dysentery, temporary truces were declared to allow both Union and Confederate soldiers to “go blackberrying” to forage for blackberries to ward off the disease.
  14. How to pick blackberries: To avoid the razor-sharp thorns, you need to reach deeply into the plant in the gaps between canes, hopefully not touching anything but the berry you’re after, and avoiding the thorns. Unfortunately, the blackberry shrub knows this and cleverly allows no gaps whatsoever between canes.
  15. According to the ‘experts,’ a ripe blackberry is deep black with a plump, full feel. If the berry is red or purple, it’s not ripe yet. It will pull free from the plant with only a slight tug when it’s ready.
  16. However, according to the ‘pickers,’ if a berry is red or purple or pulls free from the plant with a slight tug, it is not ripe yet. The ripe ones fell off while you were trying to move the canes to get to the berries before bleeding to death.
  17. To find loads of berries that other people missed, just bend down and look up into the plant. You will find orders of magnitude more berries than anyone thought. And that’s just with the one eye that still hasn’t been pierced by blackberry thorns.
  18. Wild blackberries are like the ones you buy, but better.
  19. THE SONG OF THE BLACKBERRY QUEEN, by Cicely Mary Barker:

A long time denizen of the Pacific Northwest, scientist, educator, artist, farmer, chicken wrangler, editor & writer at SalishMagazine.org.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store