Blackberry guide: how to identify bramble, when to pick blackberries, and recipe ideas
In the UK, blackberries are our most foraged fruit; the tradition of going out blackberry picking brings together all ages (as do the pies and crumbles they’re often turned into).
‘One for me, one for the pot’ was the blackberry-picking rule I grew up with; each autumn, my family would head out armed with Tupperware to collect them from the patch of brambles across from our house. From sweet to sour, the flavour of blackberries varies immensely depending on the weather, time of year and the variety you’re picking.
Their small seeds are packed with omega 3 and 6 and plenty of fibre – so are worth taking time to chew. The fruits meanwhile are full of vitamins C and K with note-worthy amounts of B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, manganese and copper.
Each variety produces a slightly different fruit; if you find a picking spot where they taste particularly delicious, it’s worth remembering it to return to in future years. For, although the weather and soil influence their flavour, you may just have hit on the tastiest variety.
Head over to our foraging hub for more foraging advice and recipe ideas, including an expert guide to sustainable foraging, how to make dandelion syrup (also known as dandelion honey), and how to make an autumnal wild berry cocktail.
Where are blackberries found?
Native to much of Europe and introduced in South Africa and South Korea as well as in parts of Australasia, many wild and cultivated varieties of blackberries thrive across the world.
Hedgerows, woodlands, scrublands and urban wastelands.
How to identify bramble and blackberries
Thorny stems that grow up to 4m/13ft long with white or pale pink five-petalled flowers and bulbous, purplish-black fruits that grow in clusters.
When and how to pick blackberries
Blackberries can be picked from late summer through to mid-autumn – the earlier ones tend to be better raw, the later good for cooking.
Pick deep-black fruits (not the underripe red ones) that come away easily when pulled. They will temporarily stain your hands.
Thorns can easily snag on skin and tear clothing. Blackberries are high in fibre and can cause a stomach upset if you eat too many (I speak from childhood experience).
This is an edited extract from Wild and Sweet by Rachel Lambert, published by Hoxton Mini Press.
Why are there so many micro species of bramble?
There are over 400 described microspecies of bramble in the UK alone – each varying in the size and shape of leaf, growth habit and fruit.
So rich and complex is the world of the common blackberry plant, that the study of it has its own word: batology.
It’s a plant, sometimes referred to as a ‘weed’, we tend to love and hate in equal measure, depending on context.
The recurved thorns that arm its arching stems – serving as both a defence against browsers and as ‘grappling hooks’ – are the main reason for animosity.
However, they serve to protect more than the plant itself – they also act as a nursery for saplings, protecting them from the predations of browsing herbivores, such as deer, while also holding the nests of plenty of species of bird and mammal safe in their thorny arms.
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The flowers are popular with a variety of pollinators and the highly palatable leaves, many of which remain through the winter months, are a vital salad to several species – from roe deer to bramble-mining moths, which leave wandering spirograph-like patterns.
A reason that lots of us can’t totally turn against it is the fruits - or, more accurately, the ‘drupes’.
Each one is actually a cluster of up to 50 individual ‘black berries’, called drupelets, which contain a tiny seed (the ones that get stuck between your teeth).
These sugar-and-vitamin parcels are the justification behind the only wild food foraging many of us do – the annual sport of ‘blackberrying’.
As well as a bounty for many birds and insects, badgers and foxes can over indulge in this seasonal bounty – as evidenced by the vast quantities of purple poo visible during the late summer months.
This Q&A originally appeared in BBC Wildlife, and was answered by Nick Baker.
Bramble recipe ideas
This blackberry cordial is easy to make and tastes divine; it has a deep, intense, fruity flavour.
This delicious vegan blackberry and chocolate cake is decadent without being overly rich or sweet, making it practically impossible to stop at one slice.
This cinnamon-infused apple and blackberry crumble has a rich, golden oaty topping for a satisfying crunch. Serve it with ice cream or lashings of custard.
One of the joys of autumn is to go ‘brambling’ in the country, and this blackberry pudding with crème de mûre and sticky toffee sauce is a great way to enjoy the harvest.
This combination of crushed blackberries, whisky cream and blackberry and whisky syrup makes for a delightful dessert. Author Connieach MacLeod, aka The Hebridean Baker, shares his recipe for bramble bàrr from his book.
Bramble jam is perfectly delicious on hot buttered toast, smeared onto scones or adding a dollop to flavour to yoghurt, ice cream or rice pudding.
Tiktok sensation and author Coinneach MacLeod, aka The Hebridean Baker, shares his recipe for making bramble whisky from his book.
Wildlife storyteller Lucy McRobert. shares her recipe for blackberry vodka.