Common name: Blackberry, Bramble
Scientific name: Rubus fruticosus
Family: Rosaceae (Rose)
This sprawling shrub is one of the best-known wild foods. Who hasn’t collected blackberries in autumn?
Rambling thorny stems rapidly colonise woodlands, hedgerows and grassy areas, with pale pink 5-petaled flowers in April-May. The oval leaves are thorny along the central spine.
The season for picking the sweet yet tart antioxidant-rich blackberries is getting earlier as the climate warms. Start looking in sunny spots from late July, later in shady places, and the season runs into late September. Tradition says that the Devil has spat of blackberries on Halloween, so not to pick any after that – in reality, they are probably rotting on the plant by then. The berries freeze well so you can extend their use at home. They also make excellent jam (with some apple or rosehip for pectin to assist with setting) and can be included in fruit crumbles and pies, compotes or autumn pudding (together with elderberries, haws and rosehips).
The leaves, if picked just before flowering, make a subtly fruit tea, rich in anti-oxidants and helpful in arresting diarrhoea. Recent research by a BT Young Scientist winner, Adam Meehan from Colaiste Choilm in Ballincollig, has found an anti-biotic compound in the leaves too.
900 g cooking or crab apples, 2.25kg blackberries, 1.8kg granulated sugar, warmed in a low oven
Wash, peel, core and slice the apples. Stew until soft in 225ml water in a stainless-steel saucepan and beat to a pulp. Pick over the blackberries, put into a large stainless-steel saucepan and cook until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the apple pulp and heated sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil and cook steadily for about 15 minutes. Skim the jam, teat it for a set and pour into clean sterile jars. Cover, label and store in a cool dark place.