Bramble or Blackberry – A Foraging Guide to Its Food, Medicine and Other Uses

A popular bramble fruit, blackberries are often picked in late summer to autumn to make jams, jellies and pies. The leaves of this versatile plant also make a pleasant tea. Bramble is one of our most commonly used wild edibles.

Common Name

Bramble or Blackberry.

Scientific Name

Rubus fruticosus agg.

Family

Rosaceae.

Botanical Description

Trailing, tangled, thorny stems bearing five-petalled flowers of varying size and colour, with prickly and toothed green leaves that turn reddish-purple in autumn. The fruits turn from green to red to deep-purple black.

Status

Native to Britain and Ireland.

Habitat and Distribution

Commonly found in hedgerows, roadsides and waysides across Britain and Ireland. According to Mrs Grieve’s A Modern Herbal, “In Australia, the blackberry grows more luxuriantly than in any other part of the world, though it is common everywhere.”REF

Parts Used For Food

Shoots, fruits, flowers and leaves.

Harvest Time

The fruits can be picked from August to October.

Food Uses of Bramble or Blackberry

Blackberry picking is a popular pastime in the autumn in Britain and Ireland. Many people in towns and villages will walk along waysides and hedgerows to fill their buckets with blackberries to eat, cook and freeze. However, this is not a modern pastime.

Blackberries have been eaten since early human history. The seeds were found in the stomach of a Neolithic man dug up in Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex.REF They have also been eaten almost worldwide, for example, the berries are gathered and eaten in China.REF

Today the fruit are one of the most widely collected wild edibles. Blackberries are used to make jam, jellies, wine, liqueurs and pie fillings.

Blackberries are also mixed with crab apples to make fruit cheeses, or can be made into savoury-sweet condiments, such as pickles, chutneys and ketchup, and to flavour vinegar.REF

In seventeenth-century England, blackberry was drunk as a cordial with spices and brandy.

The leaves are used for tea. The young purple shoots can be added to omelettes or eaten with olive oil and lemon juice, or even with fish eggs.REF

Blackberry blossom is a useful source of nectar for bees too. Honeybees forage on the flowers to produce a light-flavoured, fruity honey.REF

Bramble or Blackberry Recipes

Nutritional Profile of Bramble or Blackberry

Some varieties of blackberries have more dietary fibre than wholemeal bread.REF

Blackberries are also a very good source of vitamin C, around 15mg per 100g. Blackberries contain about 5% sugar.REF

The first berries that ripen are said to be the sweetest and juiciest, whereas smaller berries further up the stalk that ripen later maybe ‘seedy’.

Herbal Medicine Uses of Bramble or Blackberry

Herbalists have recommended blackberry jelly, cordial or wine for its potent restorative powers.REF

While Culpeper, who himself needs no introduction, praised the plant as a remedy for almost all ailments from wounds and ulcers to fevers and itching.REF

In Irish folk medicine, bramble leaves, roots and fruits were a common remedy for ailments such as colds, coughs and flu, because of the plant’s astringent and antiseptic properties.

Bramble was also used to treat sore feet, cuts, burns, ulcers, kidney problems and diarrhoea.

There were various remedies from mixing bramble juice with butter to treat swellings and blackberry vinegar to treat fevers, colds, gout and arthritis.REF

Other Uses

In other uses, bramble stems have been used for weaving baskets, thatches, and even beehives, and the roots yield a black dye,REF as well as being used in the production of an orange dye and a green dye for wool in Scotland and Ireland.REF

In Devon, bramble shoots were used as fishing rods to pull young rabbits out of burrows.REF

Thorny bramble bushes also provide useful impenetrable barriers alongside country fields.REF

Cautions

There are few concerns about using bramble in food and medicine, but always consult your doctor for advice if you have a specific condition.

About The Author

Robin HarfordRobin Harford is a plant-based forager, ethnobotanical researcher, and wild food educator. He is the author of Plantopedia: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants.

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Share your experience. Leave a note for others

  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.

    Reply
  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

    Reply
      • 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?

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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

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  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

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

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  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.

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  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

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  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 🙂 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.

    Reply
  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

    Reply
  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 🙂

    Reply
  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.

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

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

    Reply
  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

    Reply
  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.

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  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.

    Reply
  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

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  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

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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 ?

    Reply
  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! 🙂

    Thanks!

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

    Reply
  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..

    Reply
  27. Hello Robin, or anyone else here who has successfuly fermented blackberry leaves. Is there a site or blog or video explaing how, step by step? Thank you!

    Reply
  28. You say consult your dr regarding some concerns. Drs do not know anything about herbs and wild foods. What are the concerns?

    also, I am diabetic so cannot have sugar, can I substitute stevia and how much would I use?

    Reply

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