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[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #58: Bramble

July 26, 2022

In 2022, I am continuing to blog an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here. An index of species covered so far can be found here.

Blackberries
Ripe, ripening and unripe blackberries. Photo Ragesoss – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus agg.

Also known as blackberry

In autumn, woods, hedges and heaths yield a rich bounty of blackberries. Throughout these islands there are several hundred species of bramble, with white or pink flowers from May to September. Brambles grow vigorously and often trail clumsily over low trees and hedges, although some species are low and trailing and others erect like raspberry canes. They are deciduous, and have compound leaves of three to five leaflets on a prickly stem. Where the stems touch the ground, they are able to take root, allowing the bramble to colonise large areas quickly. The berries are edible, although some species are more flavourful than others. Richard Mabey writes that the lowest berry on the branch is the earliest to ripen and is the sweetest and juiciest of all. Small berries further up the stalk tend to be hard and slightly bitter. 

Bramble shoots are also edible as a vegetable. Bramble leaves were once used medicinally, being applied topically to reduce inflammation, while the berries have been used to treat sore throats, skin complaints and diarrhoea. An orange dye can be made from the roots. 

In folk traditions, there are taboos against picking blackberries after certain dates – sometimes Michaelmas (29th September), because the devil has struck them (or in some tellings spat or pissed on them). Crawling under an arch of brambles was a folk cure for whooping cough.

Rubus fruticosus on the Digital Plant Atlas

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2022 7:00 am

    Blackberries are such a wonderful plant and very under-rated! As you say, there’s a rich cultural history associated with them: this old post of mine from 2014 might interest you: https://jeffollerton.co.uk/2014/08/24/blackberry-week/

    • matthewlaw permalink*
      July 26, 2022 10:27 am

      Thanks Jeff – very interesting! I still look forward to blackberry foraging

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