Traditional and Modern Uses of Blackberry (Bramble)

A short run through of the various parts of Bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) that can be used as food, and a unique process you may not have heard of before regarding the use of the leaves.

I just want to quickly take you through this amazing plant, bramble or blackberry, Rubus fruticosus agg., which we all know because most of us have gathered it in our childhood.

So, technically if you’ve picked bramble or blackberry fruits when you were a child, you’ve been a life-long forager.

With the fruits, we can make jams, we can make blackberry vinegar, we can make wine with them. Blackberry liqueur. There are lots and lots of ways of using blackberry fruits. You can even use them in a junket.

But today what I want to talk about are the little-known parts of the blackberry that you might not have come across before.

So, if you actually go into the little nibs, in between where the leaf is attaching itself to the main stalk where the other fruits are branching off.

In the very early spring time, you get this tiny little feathery bud coming out, a leaf bud, and it’s silver grey. If you pick them, and sometimes you can get them quite long, wait for them to sprout.

What you don’t want is for the leaf to come out and be open. Pick them and they have delicious coconut flavours. I sprinkle them on salads. But I’m really intrigued by the leaf of this plant, this plant has taught me quite a lot. Plants teach me, okay. Not in some kind of woo-woo way though. They teach me as a result of observation.

One of the things that I found is a plant called rosebay willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium), or ‘bomb weed’ if you live in London.

It was one of the first plants that came out after the bombings during the second world war. And in Russia, it’s known as Ivan tea, which harks back to the old Soviet days. , but it’s also known as Koporye tea. The leaf is actually fermented the same way that black tea leaves are fermented.

So, it got me thinking. I lodged that information on the back burner in my brain, and then I went off and visited Myanmar, formerly Burma.

I was visiting a traditional culture there called the Karen. And I met this guy there in one of their markets. It was in the middle of nowhere, and interestingly he had lots and lots of piles of leaves in front of him.

One of them was black tea, that he had gathered, picked and then fermented and was selling. But all the other leaves were forest tree leaves.

Now, in south-east Asia when you forage you’re not looking down at the ground particularly, you’re actually looking up in the trees.

A lot of the food and the medicine comes from the trees. And that’s what he’d done, he’d basically fermented the forest tree leaves and was selling them.

And so I came back again, lodged that observation at the back of my brain. So we’ve got fermenting of plant leaves in Russia, we’ve got it in Burma.

And then I’m up in the north of England one day visiting a friend who originally came from Kenya. I walk into her kitchen and she’s got a pillowcase with a load of bramble leaves, blackberry leaf in it.

And I say to her “Why have you got a pillowcase of bramble leaves hanging over your cooker?”

She turned to me like I was from Mars and said, “Well I’m fermenting them, Robin.” And it was like ah, okay, that’s quite cool. Now we’ve got a third observation where plant leaves are being fermented to make a tea.

So, one of the principles I live by is, if I can validate or observe something three times, then I pay attention a lot more.

So I paid a lot more attention to this. I tried some of my friend’s fermented bramble leaf tea, and it was extraordinary, the flavour profile just eclipsed picking the fresh leaf, or even using dried bramble leaf. Most people simply put it in a pot and pour hot water over the leaves.

This process of fermenting tree leaves and plant leaves, I think is key to bringing out the secret within plants if you’re going to use them as tea.

So, I encourage you to experiment and play. If you’ve seen my blog you’ll see that I’ve experimented with things like beech leaf tea. The beech leaves are picked when in the autumn time when they’re brown, and they’ve been on the tree a long time.

There’s a potential for fermentation going on. Some of those flavours can taste like Lapsang or oolong teas. Some extraordinary tea flavours come through.

So we’ve got the fruit, we’ve got the bramble leaf. The next bit that I want to take you through is actually the shoot that appears in April or May.

Bramble is actually considered an invasive species. We don’t see it as invasive because we love it, we love it for its fruits, we love it for what it does for all the other little bugs and critters and the ecosystem that is around the plant.

Obviously, each plant is part of an ecosystem and everything is symbiotic. Funnily enough, so are we, humans, although we tend to think and use our language as though nature … Somehow it’s out there, it’s like us, nature. Well, we are nature. So we are part of it.

Personally, I see my place in the ecosystem as a grazing animal. That’s all I am. I might think that I’m quite bright along with the rest of the human species, but we can’t be that bright because we’re screwing up mother earth, aren’t we?

So, as we are part of the ecosystem we are symbiotic with it.

Bramble being an invasive species grows up to three inches a day. There’s an old Zen master called Bash? who said if you want to meet bamboo, go sit with bamboo.

So when I say sitting with plants, what I actually mean is to sit with plants and to observe. And from observe, make hypotheses. That’s how I discover about the world.

So, the shoot you see in front of you is pretty big (watch the video above), and you might think “hang on, I’m not going to stick that spiky bit of green plant matter in my mouth, it’s going to destroy it”.

But it’s not, because if you look you’ll see that those thorns are actually very, very soft, and that’s the secret to picking the bramble shoots, is to pick them when those thorns are not wounding.

So they’re very flexible, very soft, and what you do is basically you’ll cut off that shoot, you’ll peel it. You’ll either eat it raw, or you can steam it and put butter and lemon juice over it.

They are truly delicious, and if you think how problematic bramble can be for some gardeners, cutting the shoots off all the time is basically containing the plant.

Remember what I said about my place in the world. I see humans as grazing animals, that is all we are. But I think it’s a really nice way to reclaim our connection with the natural world.

So, I would really love you today, or tomorrow, after watching this video, to get off the screen.

It’s my intention with everything I do, whether I post a photo up or I post a video up, or I post an article up… that you actually take it beyond your head, and that you go and reconnect with the natural world around you.

I don’t care whether you live in a high rise flat in the middle of London, you can get out and find a park or you can find a cemetery. You can find green space, and get engaged with plants today.

It’s really really important!

Reading about them, looking at pretty pictures on social media, watching videos like this. They have a place, but it’s not the work.

The work comes when we go outside and we engage with the beautiful green beings, and we bring them back into our kitchens and we start playing with them as food, and maybe, if we’re so inclined, to learn their medicine as well.

Blackberry Recipes

39 thoughts on “Traditional and Modern Uses of Blackberry (Bramble)”

  1. Wonderful article! Living on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, I am surrounded by millions of acres of blackberry. We usually make blackberry syrup every year, but I’ve never considered eating the peeled stems. I think now might be the right time to forage them since our winter was unusually long. Thank you! I look forward to reading more articles by you.

  2. Hey Robin, thanks for the well written article. Some great ideas for bramble I’ve never heard of before. I would especially love to hear more about how to ferment leaves!

    All the best,
    Dustin

      • Excellent! I was wondering the same thing as Dustin. I will look forward to reading that article, and thank you very much for all of your efforts. How would I find that article on this site once it is posted?

  3. Oh, this is a timely post! Just Sunday I was out on a nature walk along the Loire, discreetly tucking the last of the Alliaria and Sonchus into my sack, and as I nibbled on a blackberry leaflet, I thought, “I wonder if this would be more like tea if it were fermented?”

    Have you tried doing it yourself, and do you have a method to share with us?

    I grew up in Washington’s Cascades, so like Lynn, I know and love both blackberries and fireweed, which I have found it in this area, and used the flowers as a garnish. It would be interesting to taste it as tea, as well.

    This is a perfect time to try cooking the peeled Rubus stems – maybe tomorrow on our Bota group’s walk I can find some to share around as raw nibbles, and get enough to serve for dinner as well since I haven’t yet tried that.

    It’s nice to have you on the video, like chatting with a friend.

  4. Thank You Robin – really enjoyed the video – very informative – will be attacking the brambles on the edges of the allotment and try of all your suggestions.
    Great Video…..please do more

  5. Hey Robin, so nice to see your face again. Great video and I to am looking forward to your article on fermenting leaves.

    All the best
    Richard

  6. I’ve been eating the shoots raw as I walk so will try them steamed now.
    Thought you were very good to camera and I feel it makes for a better connection with the subject rather than just seeing the plants.
    Many thanks,
    Malcolm.
    PS: Website is in prep at the moment – a permaculture project in Portugal.

  7. Well done Robin.
    I just love this video. You’re a natural in front of the camera. Seems like you’re looking straight at the viewer and speaking personally with them rather than at them.

    Oh, and by the way. I thought I was plagued with brambles creeping through my garden fence. After watching this video I now consider myself to be blessed with them. Anyway, high time I changed my brand of tea.

  8. Thanks Robin for that information on the bramble bush and its uses, I never knew that, I can’t wait to try it. I have one in my garden.

  9. Yes 3-0 to the blackberry bush, once a Thorned nemesis now I see it in a very different light. Thank you, will forage some for a ferment this week

  10. Great artical as always Robin, good format. You came across as very comfortable an relaxed on camera, Thankyou for sharing this knowlage, ive always had a certian level of guilt when its sometimes nessisery to cut back bramble shoots for the respect and love i have for their delicious fruits, you have i feel on a level absolved me of future discresions, cheers mate ๐Ÿ™‚ looking forward to trying the tea and tasting both, to your continued health, again thankyou Robin wonderful insights to other levels of nature and ourselves.

  11. I enjoy reading your blogs – the video was even better.
    I’ll never look at a blackberry bush in the same way again.
    Thanks for the inspiration.
    Please can you tell us how to ferment leaves I’ve only ever managed to dry.
    Thanks
    Jenni

  12. Hi Robin, thank you for this video. Brambles are useful plants indeed. We have lots in our garden and when the blackberries come, we have so many that there are enough for us and the garden birds. I have kept stick insects for many years and have noticed that they, and many other insects tend to avoid eating the new tender leaves and I’m wondering if it’s because these contain some kind of natural insecticide?
    PS it was nice to see you on the video yourself- for some reason I had always imagined that you would have a beard ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Excellent very informative really glad I watch this video now to go out and try foraging and to taste something new thank you very much.

  14. Loved the video Robin you are very nice to listen to ,down to earth and in touch with nature.
    Iโ€™m addicted to reading your articles,always so informative and sometimes amusing . You are @n amazing writer

  15. hi Robin, very interesting video. keen to get out and try them and looking forward to info on fermenting leaves. thank you Bev

  16. This is absolutely fascinating, Robin. I will never look at bramble the same way again. We have loads of it (and Rosebay Willow herb) at our cottage in Shropshire. I’m now going to experiment with fermentation and other uses for these plants.

    Many thanks

  17. Bramble is an amazing plant, you can’t get rid of it. But as beekeepers we wouldn’t want to, it has lots of nectar and pollen so bees love it. We can make all the things you list but a very important part of bramble, for beekeepers, is the stalk. Split it and use it to bind ropes of straw to make skeps. What are skeps? Straw beehives.

    Fireweed (willowherb) grows well where there have been fires, not just after bombs but along railway tracks and is also a great nectar plant although the honey is very pale. Still, when bees mix it with other nectars (not deliberately) its colour wouldn’t be noticed.

  18. Hi Robin,

    It is said that we remember…
    20% of what we read,
    30% of what we hear,
    40% of what we see,
    50% of what we say,
    60% of what we do,
    90% of what we hear, see, say and do.

    So, I reckon you score 100% with your excellent combination of reading, audio-visual presentation, and encouragement to go out and do – I’m going out right now to meet some brambles.

    Thank you.

  19. my mum used to make a lovely sweet sherry out of the new buds, tea out of the leaves – and dad would use the branch fibres to make skeps for bees

  20. Thanks, I love blackberries and yesterday tasted the little spurs you said tasted of coconut which I couldn’t quite believe, but yes, they do, so will go for these again! I used to pick the new spears, or tight bunch of leaves for my guinea pigs as they used to enjoy these as a real treat. They are pretty tasty too, so would be interested what you think of them too. Look forward to learning how to ferment the leaves

  21. I love this! Thank you, Robin. I live in Central VA, just south of Richmond, and we have blackberries everywhere. I’ve used them a lot, but have no idea how to ferment the leaves… Could you possibly give us an idea as to how to ferment these? I also have a fig bush, blueberries, mulberries, grapes, lots of lemon balm, and various other herbs and trees that might be better if I knew how to use their leaves as fermented leaves. Thank you. This was great!

  22. Hi Robin,
    I believe CJJ Berry had a recipe for wine made from bramble tips. I have many gallons of blackberry fruit wine maturing at home but have yet to try using the shoots.
    Thy say worty wine is worthy wine!
    I look forward to your next video.

    Steve.

  23. Brilliant Robin, thank you for sharing. Will definitely give this a try, and young shoots of wild raspberry too. Beautiful green beings indeed, love that ?

  24. Ok, I’ve watched the video, taken notes, gone into the garden and picked some shoots and peeled them! Woop! Isn’t it strange how one can be so nervous about these things?!

    The one’s that peeled nicely are 4mm thick. Any thinner and there was nothing to peel; any wider they were too tough to peel.

    I just used my fingers to peel them from bottom to top. It was strange to see the fledgling thorns peeling off too!

    Perhaps the thicker ones are worth peeling and will soften with steaming?

    EATING
    I tried eating them and although neutral tasting I find them quite chewy and difficult to swallow. I guess you could take the tiniest of bites though to chew and swallow.

    I’m definitely going to try steaming them instead.

    I have set the leaves aside for now – I’m new to this – and will look up what to do with those. Can’t wait for your fermentation article Robin – you’re the third person to mention it in as many weeks.

    Any tips welcome! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks!

  25. As always, a beautiful and informative presentation.
    And good to see your Mush on the screen so we know who to thank.

  26. Hi Robin, would you like to do an article on fermenting leaves? There is scant, fringing on no information I have found on the internet about the process. I ferment fruit, veg etc and have for some time now. What is the process for leaves?
    Regards..

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