The wilderness and green spaces around us are full of treasures. If only we could pause from our busyness, and study what is around us when we are outdoors. Green spaces have so much to offer. Music to our ears if we pause and listen to singing birds or chirping insects. Importantly, free wild food for anyone who’s interested! Why should we forage or pick wild food? It is one way to get free nutrients, save money, get some exercise as you walk also enjoy the outdoors. If you are not a forager yet, why not forage for blackberries?
Wild blackberry plants or brambles as they are also known are some of the most common plants you will see in the UK. They are invasive to some degree and can easily overrun your garden. These plants are everywhere in the UK, in parks, hedges or even taking over pavements. When blackberry plants are not being a thorn in the backside, they are a source of food. The berries are edible and are closely related to blackberries you buy from the supermarket. I pick blackberries in late summer after they ripen. The tip here is to pick berries that are high up and have not been touched by foxes, dogs or other wildlife. Avoid picking blackberries that are next to busy roads as they may be covered in vehicle exhaust fumes. Go for firm dark fruit as soft fruit is overripe and likely to contain fruit fly larvae.
Gently wash the fruit and drain them before use or storage. My blackberries are mostly for use in smoothies. I portion the fruit into different bags and store them in the freezer. One tip I have learned is once the fruits have initially frozen, you can gently break the frozen fruits apart and end up with individually frozen berries. This makes it easy to scoop out berries for smoothies for instance.
The berries can be used for topping yoghurt or muesli. If you are a baker, you can make pies out of blackberries. BBC Goodfood offers a good collection of recipes where blackberries are used. Other than eating the berries as they are or adding them to smoothies, the blackberries can be made into jam. You can also make blackberry juice or syrup. The syrup is a wonderful topping to a scoop of vanilla ice cream!
Nutrients in blackberries
Blackberries are packed with vitamins and minerals. They are a rich source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is useful for collagen formation in the skin and connective tissue such as joints and bones. It also helps support immunity and also absorption of iron by the body. Blackberries are rich in vitamin K which is important for bone formation and also blood clotting. Vitamin E is another vitamin in blackberries. Vitamin E supports immunity and also helps maintain healthy eyes, brain and skin.
Fiber, calcium and manganese are also abundant in blackberries. Fiber supports your gut health, increasing good bacteria in your gut. Fibre also regulates the body’s use of sugars as it staves off hunger. A 100g of blackberries contains 5.3g of fiber. Calcium supports bone health. It also supports heart, muscle and nerve functioning.
Blackberries are a rich source of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are known for their antioxidant activities. They mop up free radicals which are responsible for immature skin aging for instance. Free radicals damage skin and organs such as the heart. Phytonutrients also support the immune system. There are several types of phytonutrients. The ones found in blackberries are flavonoids that support the heart, and reduce inflammation. Blackberries also contain anthocyanins which also support heart health and have anti-inflammatory properties. Other phytonutrients in blackberries are ellagic acid and cyanidin.
The leaves are great for herbal tea. For tea, you can pick leaves any time of the year. I tend to pick the younger leaves as mature leaves are tough. By young, I don’t mean shoots. I go for leaves that are more towards the tip of the branch. Similarly, to berry picking, thorns are a must-watch out for. I use kitchen scissors to harvest leaves. Use thick gardening gloves to avoid thorn pricks. Snap off the thorns from the leaves. This will prevent pricks later on when you rub the dried-up leaves.
Wash the blackberry leaves and pat them dry. You can leave them on the side for a few minutes to get rid of more water. I next use a gentle mallet and wooden chopping board to smash the leaves enough to bruise them. This releases the juices a bit. I put the leaves in a plastic bag with a few holes. The other alternative is to leave them in a bowl with the lid slightly cracked open for aeration. This is for the leaves to ferment. I ferment the leaves for 7 – 10 days. At this time, they are ready for drying and rubbing. If you have a food dehydrator, you can use it for drying the leaves. I put them on a baking tray, single layer and dry them in the oven at low heat. The leaves can be dried in the sun too. Once the leaves are dry, rub them between your fingers to reduce the size of leaves. The leaves are all set for use.
You make blackberry leaf tea like any other tea; boil water, add the leaves and steep for approximately 3 minutes, or for longer if you prefer the tea stronger. In summer I delight in herbal ice teas during the day while in the evening I like having a cup of hot herbal tea.
Benefits of blackberry leaf herbal tea
The main benefit is hydration by the tea since you are taking in fluids. The leaves contain many of the nutrients contained in the berries, including some of the phytonutrients. The leaves are rich in vitamin C and iron. Blackberry leaf is also rich in chlorogenic acid. This phytonutrient has potential anti-inflammatory benefits. It is said blackberry leaf also eases diarrhea, and offers relief for sore throat or gum. The tea may also aid digestion. Some literature claims that blackberry leaf has antimicrobial properties.
There is no doubt that blackberries are a superfood and should form part of the diet. For this reason, it is one of my favourite foraged foods. They are delicious, great for health, and best of all, they are free!