It’s almost blackberry season. The thorny canes might scratch the skin off you, but the fruit is worth the effort. These brambles comprise one of the most confusing genera in the plant kingdom.
There are numerous members of the genus Rubus in our state. We have several species of blackberry and three types of wild raspberry. We also have dewberries, which look and taste like blackberries but run along the ground instead of on upright canes.
There are two features that separate blackberries from raspberries. First, raspberry leaves are silvery or whitish on the underside, while blackberry leaves are green underneath. The whitish receptacle pulls away from a raspberry fruit, leaving a hollow place. This structure remains with blackberries.
You can confuse your friends by telling them that raspberries and blackberries are not really berries at all, but aggregates of drupes. A drupe is a fruit with a single hard seed. Cherries, plums and peaches are simple drupes.
Botanically speaking, strawberries aren’t berries either. They are multiples of achenes. We actually eat the fleshy receptacle that holds the fruits. True berries have more than one seed on the inside.
In eastern North Carolina blackberries are far more common than raspberries, and we have several different blackberry species here. The best part is that they are all edible and well worth collecting. Make sure they are fully black and slightly soft.
The fruits can be fashioned into numerous recipes or just eaten raw. In addition to being delicious they contain chemicals collectively called antioxidants, which help our immune systems fight disease. Blackberries are also high in Vitamin C.
Don’t think that just because they contain sugars that berries are a bad diet food. One cup of blackberries contains only about 75 calories and is high in fiber. If you don’t smother them with sugar they are very good for you.
Even the leaves have value. Many commercial herbal teas contain blackberry leaves, which many herbalists claim have medicinal qualities.
Supposedly blackberry leaf tea has benefits on both ends. It has been used to treat mouth sores as well as diarrhea. I’d say that’s pretty versatile.
My favorite use for the fruit would have to be blackberry cobbler. It might be calorie dense, but you only live once. No summer is complete without at least one homemade pie or cobbler.
The berries also make great jams and jelly. I like to sieve the seeds out of mine, but it’s not necessary.
Wild raspberries are rare in eastern North Carolina. The black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) is common in the mountains and less so in the piedmont. Red raspberries (Rubus idaeus) are only found in the most mountainous parts of the state unless they have escaped from someone’s garden.
The only other raspberry species is the purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus), which is also found in the western mountains. They aren’t much of a table prize though.
Our wild blackberries are worth every scratch and splinter. Don’t curse those prickly brambles encroaching into your lawn. Now is the time to get their tasty morsels.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.