Few late summer activities are as typically British as rooting through a hedgerow in search of blackberries. The hardy brambles that grow the plump little fruits thrive anywhere from dense woodlands to wasted shrubbery, making the blackberry extremely common.
Blackberries are also a particularly good introduction to foraging, as they are easily recognisable and are relatively simple to pluck. A popular childhood activity, blackberry-picking is a common introduction to foraging for many people.
Our guide on how to forage for blackberries in Britain, with a few key details regarding where the fruit can be found, characteristics and recipe ideas.
What is the season for picking blackberries in the UK?
The first early blackberries start appearing in August in the UK, but September and October can also be good picking months depending on location.
Is it safe to eat wild blackberries in the UK?
Grown in clusters along hedgerows, it is safe to eat wild blackberries found in the UK, although you should wash and freeze them first to kill any bugs.
The blackberry should not be confused with the black raspberry, which looks almost identical. The easiest way to tell the difference is by the core. Blackberries will always have a white core, with part of the stem still attached, whereas black raspberries are hollow in the center as the stem is left behind when picked. Black raspberries are a treat to find though – they are less tart than blackberries and make excellent jams.
Where to look for blackberries
You will find blackberries in woods, hedges, heaths, roadside verges, and possibly even your garden. Brambles are usually found in a tangled straggly clump, with prickly, toothed leaves that turn reddish green in the autumn. The berries should be a deep, purple-black when picked. Blackberries are at their best towards the latter half of summer, peaking in August and early September.
August and September is the best time to pick blackberries (Getty Images)
Blackberry facts: history, folklore and scientific facts
The devil ruins blackberries after Michaelmas
One of the most famous English folk stories states that blackberries should not be picked after Michaelmas Day as the devil has urinated on them, angry after he fell from Heaven onto a blackberry bush. The legend has some truth as wetter and cooler weather in late October often allows the fruit to spoil, but it should not be taken literally – blackberries picked in late October can still be very tasty!
Bramble thorns caused the downfall of one Greek hero
The Greeks enjoyed blackberries and believed them to be a cure for mouth and throat diseases. According to Greek mythology, the hero Belleraphon was thrown into brambles after he dared to ride the Pegasus to Mount Olympus. He was blinded by the thorns in his fall and wandered alone and outcast thereafter.
Truces were called during the Civil War to pick blackberries
During the Civil War, blackberry tea was said to be the best cure for dysentery. Temporary truces were declared throughout the conflict to allow both Union and Confederate soldiers to forage for blackberries. It was not completely successful however, as outbreaks of dysentery still plagued the soldiers throughout the war.
What is the scientific study of blackberries called?
Surprisingly, Batology is the name given to the study of blackberries. Chiropterology is the study of bats. Just to confuse you even further – a batologist is defined as someone who studies blackberries but is also frequently and probably mistakenly used a colloquial and humorous term for someone who studies bats.
Unripe blackberries are red, not green
Blackberry fruit are red in colour, rather than green, before they are ripe. There is an old expression that “blackberries are red when they’re green”.
Tradition also claims that the blackberry’s deep purple colour represents Christ’s blood and the crown of thorns was made of brambles.
What are the health benefits of eating blackberries?
According to English folklore, passing under the archway formed by a bramble branch can cure hernias, ruptures, pimples and boils. This has also been used as a remedy for “downer” cows, cows that for whatever reason are unable to stand.
Apparently, eating blackberries can also help you look younger, as blackberries are rich in anti-oxidants that promote the healthy tightening of tissue, making your skin less likely to sag or wrinkle.
Blackberries have long been thought to have a number of health benefits. (Getty)
Blackberries have also be been used as hair dye with Nicholas Culpeper, an English herbalist from the 1600s, recommended the blackberry leaf to be used as hair dye. He advised that the leaves were to be boiled in a lye solution in order to “maketh the hair black”.
The tastiest berry is always just out of reach! Credit: Getty
Best places for picking blackberries
Brambles can be found in most woodlands, but here is a small selection of places to start your blackberry hunt. Here is our pick of a couple of our favourite blackberry picking spots.
Leigh Woods, Bristol
Leigh Woods in Bristol offers rich pickings, with the woodlands stuffed full of tasty blackberries.
Path though Leigh Woods, Clifton Bristol (Getty)
New Forest, Hampshire
New Forest, Hampshire offers excellent blackberry picking and is a scenic spot for a blackberry walk.
Wimbledon Common, London
A more urban blackberry picking spot is Wimbledon Common in south west London. Commons are often quite wild in places, giving brambles chance to thrive.
Take a walk to a rare and precious limewood at Limewoods, Lincolnshire. where the new bright green leaves are the essence of springtime and it is possible to see white admiral and brown hairstreak butterflies.
Head deep into Haldon Forest Park to discover the secrets of the park’s magnificent trees.
Rich blackberry pickings can be found in Haldon Forest near Exeter in Devon. (Getty)
Kielder Forest, Northumberland
Kielder Forest, Northumberland. Walk an epic lakeside path or observe the mysteries of the universe in a beautiful man-made landscape.
Kielder water resevoir and forest in Northumberland, United Kingdom
How to store blackberries
Once you’ve brought your blackberries home, wash well with cold water and leave to soak with a little salt to kill any bugs. Fresh blackberries will last a day or two but blackberries ripen quickly – losing flavour and condition, so if you have a glut to use up it is worth freezing. Wash the blackberries and set aside to dry before spreading in thin layers in a container and popping in the freezer for a later date. Alternatively, you can stew with a little suger and puree, again freezing or keeping in the fridge.
Can you freeze blackberries?
Blackberries freeze well and can be used throughout winter in crumbles and pies. Freezing them will also help kill any bugs.
Use up a glut of blackberries with these easy recipes.
Make these fruity mini pies using freshly foraged blackberries
Rustle up these easy filo pastry blackberry pie. (Getty)
Like classic fruit crumble but in a cuttable, transportable bar, these delicious crumble squares are perfect for a summer picnic.
These easy-to-make crumble squares are perfect for a summer picnic or hike (Photo by: manyakotic via Getty Images)
This fruity sorbet recipe uses golden syrup instead of granulated sugar gives to give it a soft texture. If you can, use blackberries that you’ve picked yourself from the hedgerow – they taste far more intense than the big fat ones you buy in the shops.
This apple and blackberry sorbet is perfect for using up hand picked blackberries (Photo by: Getty Images)
This simple recipe is quick and easy to make and a great way for all the family to enjoy this season’s blackberries.
Serve warm with cream, custard or ice cream(Photo by: peterotoole via Getty Images)
This blackberry coulis uses only three ingredients and freezes well, making it the perfect recipe to use up the blackberries you’ve picked during the summer months- keep a batch in the freezer and use it as a topping the next time you make pancakes or chocolate fudge cake
Summer blackberry coulis is the perfect topping for ice cream or pancakes (Photo by: Getty Images)
This classic crumble is easy to make and a perfect recipe for the late summer months, when hedgerow blackberries are abundant.
Enjoy a classic crumble flavour with this easy and timeless recipe. (Photo by: ingwervanille via Getty Images)
If you love balsamic vinegar you’ll love this recipe – it’s equally useful and extremely cheap to make using blackberries you’ve picked yourself. It’s great in salad dressings or used as a cordial to treat colds.
Home made blackberry vinegar is a great summer alternative to balsamic vinegar (Photo by: Annabelle Breakey via Getty Images)
You can find blackberries in hedgerows, in gardens and along railway tracks to make this easy tray bake.
This blackberry and coconut tray bake puts a modern twist on a classic British ingredient