The blackberry is an edible fruit produced by many species in the Rubus genus in the Rosaceae family, hybrids among these species within the Rubus subgenus, and hybrids between the Rubus and Idaeobatus subgenera. The taxonomy of the blackberries has historically been confused because of hybridisation and apomixis, so that species have often been grouped together and called species aggregates. Black Raspberries are sometimes confused with blackberries.
What distinguishes the blackberry from its Raspberry relatives is whether or not the torus (receptacle or stem) picks with (i.e. stays with) the fruit. When picking a blackberry fruit, the torus stays with the fruit. With a raspberry, the torus remains on the plant, leaving a hollow core in the raspberry fruit.
The term bramble, a word meaning any impenetrable thicket, has traditionally been applied specifically to the blackberry or its products, though in the United States it applies to all members of the Rubus genus. In the western US, the term caneberry is used to refer to blackberries and raspberries as a group rather than the term bramble.
The usually black fruit is not a berry in the botanical sense of the word. Botanically it is termed an aggregate fruit, composed of small drupelets. It is a widespread and well-known group of over 375 species, many of which are closely related apomictic microspecies native throughout Europe, northwestern Africa, temperate western and central Asia and North and South America.
Selection and Storage
Blackberries – of which there are more than 2,000 varieties – can be gathered as soon as they ripen from red fruit into dark, plump berries and can be eaten fresh (they only keep for a short time) or preserved into excellent jelly or jam. Wild blackberries are as good as strawberries and raspberries, and sometimes superior in a good year. Their perfume is quite exotic for something that grows so abundantly. Cultivated blackberries are bigger and duller, but improve when cooked.
- Choose fresh aromatic blackberries devoid of any mushiness. Generally, the perfectly ripe blackberries which are ready to eat, have deep black colour while the ones that are not fully ripen may have dark red or purple colour.
- When buying blackberries packaged in a box, look for any visible stickiness between the blackberries. Blackberries sticking to one another on inclining the container may indicate budding spoilage.
- Blackberries perish quickly and should ideally be consumed within 3-4 days.
- They may be kept in a shallow vessel without making multiple layers or placing them on one another and refrigerated to avoid decay by covering the container with a loose plastic wrap. Let them come to room temperature before eating, as they will taste much juicier.
- For further later usage, blackberries may be frozen by arranging them on a baking tray with a rim in a single layer. Once the blackberries are frozen, they made be shifted into a zipper freezer bag, sealed and again put back into the freezer. As these frozen berries may become soggy when defrosted, they may be apt only for cooking purposes.
Usage in Cooking
The rich, deep, purple-black tones of the blackberry are delicious in pies, crumbles, ice cream, jams and summer desserts and are a natural pair for the first of the cooking apples that come into season. The slight acidity of blackberries is also an excellent foil for rich or gamey meat such as duck, venison, pheasant, or lamb.
Although the most recognisable use of blackberries is for jams and jellies, this most common of berry plants has other applications as well. At one time prized for their astringent properties, blackberries have since been replaced by other more synthetic treatment choices. With a resurgence of interest in natural remedies, blackberries are being reconsidered for their use as a healing herb. The root, leaves and fruit can all be used to make medicinal preparations.
The root of the blackberry plant contains high quantities of tannins. Tannins produce an astringent effect, particularly on the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. Consequently, blackberry root tea or tincture can be used for treating dysentery, diarrhea, hemorrhoids and other intestinal disorders. Some gastrointestinal disorders are serious and may require medical attention. If you suffer from a serious gastrointestinal condition, consult with your physician prior to using any herbal remedy.
A preparation made from blackberry root, leaves and ripe berries can be used as a gargle to treat sore throats, inflamed gums and mouth ulcers. It can also assist in controlling occurrences of thrush, a mild yeast infection that can occur in the mouth, particularly in young children.
The astringent properties of blackberries can also be applied to treating wounds. Tannins in blackberries can help constrict blood vessels. A poultice or dressing made from a preparation of blackberries can be applied to cuts and scrapes to help control minor bleeding.
Blackberry fruit is high in antioxidants, primarily due to its anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins are the type of bioflavonoid that is also found in teas, wines, nuts, cocoa and other fruits. These can help control the activity of damaging free radical chemicals within the body. Anthocyanins may also help address a host of other conditions, including improving vision, reducing hypertension, enhancing liver function, increasing memory and mental acuity. A report published in the July 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition included blackberries in the top ranked list (See report) .
Folklore in the United Kingdom is told that blackberries should not be picked after Old Michaelmas Day (11 October) as the devil (or a Púca) has made them unfit to eat by stepping, spitting or fouling on them. There is some value behind this legend as wetter and cooler weather often allows the fruit to become infected by various molds such as Botryotinia which give the fruit an unpleasant look and may be toxic. According to some traditions, blackberry’s deep purple colour represents Christ’s blood and the crown of thorns was made of brambles, although other thorny plants, such as Crataegus (hawthorn species) and Euphorbia milii (crown of thorns plant), have been proposed as the material for the crown.