Everything you need to know about blackberry picking this autumn
PUBLISHED: 11:17 11 September 2019 | UPDATED: 11:17 11 September 2019
Catherine Bolado offers a fascinating insight into this age-old tradition, and explains why these juicy berries are so important for our local wildlife
The glossy dark fruit of the bramble are a forager's dream. Easy to find and identify, this quintessential late summer berry is wonderful in homemade jams, is the special wild ingredient for an apple and blackberry pie, and adds a taste of hedgerow heaven when infused in gin or vodka. Brambles also provide an important home and food source for a wide variety of wildlife.
CHOOSE YOUR BLACKBERRY
It may surprise you to know that there are more than 400 micro-species of blackberry growing wild in the UK. Each variety has a slightly different taste, fruiting time, size and acidity. Blackberries, the fruit of the bramble (Rubus fruticosus), follow the delicate pink and white flowers that blossom in spring and early summer. The unripe fruits are red, turning to a deep glossy black when fully ripe. Blackberries are not really berries; they are aggregate fruit made of lots of tiny fruits, each with its own seed.
The bramble's thorny thicket provides a safe place for nests and burrows, insects feed on the nectar from its flowers, and mammals and birds, including winter migrant like blackcaps, feast on the berries. Foxes, badgers, wood mice, dormice and even water voles rely on this food source. So don't cut back fruiting brambles in autumn, tackle them in winter when they have been thoroughly feasted on.
MYTHS, HISTORY AND FOLKLORE
Humans has been tucking into blackberries for a millennia - remnants of seeds have been found in the stomachs of Neolithic people. Possibly because the blackberry has been part of our food culture for so long, myths and legends have grown up around this free food source.
Early Britons used the thorny plants to protect property - a sort of ancient barbed wire! Similarly, brambles were placed on graves to stop sheep grazing on them, but folklore also suggests it was to 'keep the Devil out and the dead in.'
The Devil features large in English bramble superstition; it is said that Lucifer was cast out of heaven on St Michaelmas Day (29 September) and fell onto a bramble bush. Unimpressed by this spiky landing pad, he cursed the blackberries by spitting on the bush, (some stories suggest he urinated on it instead) making the berries inedible after that date each year.
Blackberries and their leaves are important in herbal medicine, providing relief from various ailments including digestive troubles. In fact, more than one ceasefire was called during the US Civil War so that soldiers could pick and make blackberry tea - a cure for dysentery!
If you are going blackberrying please don't pick the bush clean, leave plenty for wildlife to feast on, share the spoils. And if you are picking on private land make sure you have the permission of the landowner.
While several autumnal foods like nuts, berries and mushrooms may look appealing, don't eat anything you are unsure of. If you can, book a guided local foraging walk and learn what is safe to pick and eat with an expert.
WALKS & TALKS
PLASTICS,PLANKTON & POO
Illustrated talk by Dr Ceri Lewis from Exeter University, on the impact of microplastic pollution on marine invertebrates. 7.30pm, Bridport United Church
THE LADYBIRD SPIDER
Presentation about the life of this rare arachnid which lives deep within Dorset's heathland. 7.30pm, Carter Community School, Poole
13 & 18 OCTOBER
DEER AT DAWN
Guided early morning walk to witness the deer rut on Powerstock Common, followed by breakfast at the Kingcombe Centre. Runs 7 - 10am.
Book at kingcombe.org.
WINTER BIRDS OF CHESIL, THE FLEET & PORTLAND
Two hour guided walk along Chesil Beach and The Fleet looking at its resident gulls, wading birds and geese. Meet 8am, Chesil Beach Centre
THE HIDDEN TREASURES IN SOUTHERN CHALK STREAMS
Illustrated talk by Dr Richard Osmond on the life found in southern chalk streams. 7.30pm Christchurch Baptist Church Hall, 49 Bargates
DORSET WILD RIVERS
Talk by DWT Rivers Conservation Officer about this wonderful project bringing together protection and enhancement. 7.30pm, Allendale Centre, Wimborne
Find more events at dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk
THE BLACKBERRY COBBLER
This autumn-inspired cocktail combines locally made Conker Gin (conkerspirit.co.uk) and fresh blackberries. Gomme is a sugar syrup that you can buy online.
You will need:
40ml Conker Dorset Dry Gin
25ml Fino sherry
20ml lemon juice
5 fresh blackberries
Method: Muddle (mix) the fruit in a cocktail shaker, add all other ingredients and fill with ice. Shake well and fine strain into a chilled goblet. Top with crushed ice and garnish with a sprig of mint and and some fresh blackberries.