Ahhh! ‘Tis the season of blackberries here on the west coast. I have waited and waited. They began ripening at the beginning of August and are now reaching their luscious peak!
There is an art to waiting for the exact right moment to pick blackberries. It isn’t when they turn black. You have to wait until the shine goes off the berries and they almost appear slightly grey or dusty. Then they slip into your hand and if you are not careful, another berry adjacent to the one you’re picking falls to the ground for every one you manage to pick!
The blackberry patches are at least as menacing as Sleeping Beauty’s thickets of climbing roses! Canes can grow from 5 to 10 meters in length and as they arch over, wherever the tips touch the ground, the take root. In this way, they can hop-scotch along and quickly cover a vast area. It is not wise to venture into a blackberry patch in bare feet or light summery clothing, as I did today. Still, gingerly reaching in through the thorny canes (and watching out for stinging nettle as well), I managed to pick nearly 2 litres of the intoxicating berries.
In the Lower Mainland area of BC, we generally see either the Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor) or the Evergreen or Cutleaf blackberry (Rubus laciniatus.) They are both invasives, the Himalayan having probably travelled from Asia to England, the Evergreen originating in Europe. They probably arrived here with European settlers.
The Himalayan is easy to distinguish from the Cutleaf variety and seems to be what I have seen the most of thus far in my travels around the lower mainland. It has clusters of 3-5 leaflets that are oval in shape. Like the Cutleaf, its stem is five-sided, not round. The berries are black when ripe and up to 2 cm long, a rich source of energy for all sorts of birds and small animals. The berries are a vigorous alternative method of propagation for these invasives, spread about by the various animals that have ingested them.
Efforts to eradicate these invasives is difficult. They are a concern because their vigorous growth in disturbed areas and along waterways particularly at lower elevations can form such dense thickets of a single species that it crowds out diverse native systems and prevents larger animals from reaching water-holes.
But the most amusing method tried for eradicating the invasive blackberry species may also be the most successful: the introduction of goats. I’m not sure however how you go about containing goats!
Still, they are here and I do enjoy the berries! Of all the delicious ways to eat blackberries, I think my favorite is in a port-laced sauce poured over peach ice-cream or over panna-cotta flavored with a little fresh mint-pesto. Reserve a few of the fattest, juiciest berries to decorate the plate just before serving the panna-cotta and you have a light, tasty and gorgeous dessert! (Should we incorporate a recipe section?)
Blackberry is also a well-known herbal remedy. The best herbal remedies were foods first, and blackberries are superbly nutritious. The berries are mildly laxative, but the roots and leaves can be used to treat diarrhea and dysentery. The leaf is milder and makes a nice tea. Rather nasty to dig up, if you do brave the raspberry thicket to dig for roots, do it in the early spring or fall. The younger, tender roots are easier to cut up and contain more of the beneficial tannins and are usually prepared into a tincture.