8 juicy facts about blackberries and brambles
The bramble is a common feature of the Britsh countryside but how much do you know about this prickly plant and its fruit?
We ♥ blackberries
Humans have been eating blackberries for thousands of years. Blackberry seeds are often found in the human waste unearthed at archaeological digs.
Fruit or phone?
The Oxford Junior Dictionary defines a blackberry as a mobile phone rather than a fruit.
According to folklore, when the devil was cast out heaven by St Michael, he landed on a bramble bush and cursed it. It was believed this caused blackberries to become unpalatable around 29 September – St Michael’s Day – after which they should not be picked.
No sex please, we’re British
British brambles produce fruit and seeds without fertilisation - a form of reproduction known as apomixis. As a result, some species remain extremely localised. Others are found all over the British Isles.
During the American Civil War blackberry tea was used to cure dysentery. More than one ceasefire was reportedly called for the purpose of picking blackberries and Confederate and Union soldiers would pick blackberries together, often from the same bush at the same time.
Healing powers have also been ascribed to the bramble bush. It was once believed that passing sick people several times through the loop formed by a bramble branch could cure them of conditions including rickets, whooping cough, hernias and rheumatism.
Blackberry ≠ berry
In a strict botanical sense, a blackberry is not a berry but an aggregate fruit made up of tiny 'drupelets'.
Brambles are a useful tool in forensic botany because of where and how they grow. ‘Brambles have a really nice, rhythmic growth pattern,’ says Dr Mark Spencer who uses the plant to help establish how long human remains have been at a crime scene.
Hundreds of species
There are over 330 species of bramble in the UK. This helps explain why not all blackberries taste the same.
The scientific name for the plant we recognise as a blackberry bush is Rubus fruticosus but this group includes many subtly different species.
Brambles are part of the rose family.
Source: Natural Histories