Blackberries refer to the plant of the genus and species Rubus fruticosis, as well as its fruit. There are numerous subspecies and a number of cultivars that have been developed from common blackberries, including Marionberries, and Olallieberries. If you live in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, you are probably already familiar with blackberries, since they grow wild and tenaciously in many uncleared areas. You might be familiar with them if you’ve ever tried to eradicate them from a garden, since they are an aggressive species that will come back again and again to invade your more cultivated plants.
On the other hand, some people welcome the green-leafed sight of blackberries, and even the thorns since they yield a delicious fruit. Blackberries are not truly berries, but instead they have clusters of drupelets, or tiny fruits on each “berry.” They are generally considered ripe when the drupelets are completely black; don’t confuse them with raspberries and pick them when they’re red or you’ll have a very sour fruit. They don’t ripen well after they’ve been picked, so patience in waiting for blackberries to ripen is important.
In stores you’ll find blackberries, often at quite expensive prices, around late July and early August. You may be able to find fresh blackberries earlier if they are shipped from Mexico. In Mexico, the blackberry industry is booming and since the fruit ripens sooner given the climate, you might be able to find ripe fresh berries as early as June.
People in the Pacific Northwest sometimes have a laugh at the prices of blackberries, given how quickly they will spread and grow, and the minimal cultivation or care required of them. You can find them growing along the sides of highways, near riverbanks, in easements in major cities, and by small creeks. You’ll find them in many backyards and in numerous state, national and city parks. Some care is required if you pick blackberries in more “woodsy areas,” since poison oak often grows next to or inside of blackberry plants.
When blackberry plants are left alone, they can grow to impressive heights, many exceeding 10 feet (3.05 m) or more. They prosper best where they have some sun exposure, though even in shade they may do well. Wild blackberries are riddled with thorns, which helps to protect the plants. Of course, since blackberries taste so good, botanists have developed thornless varieties, and varieties that can be trained into stalks like raspberries if you really want to farm berries or just have an easier method for picking them. When picking the wild type, the taste can still be excellent, and is often compensation for a few pricked fingers, though you can wear gloves.
Blackberries are excellent eaten plain, or topped with ice cream. They make delicious jams, preserves, pies and tarts. Blackberries in muffins are simply delicious, and blackberry scones are popular. The fruit is a healthy one, high in antioxidants, especially vitamin C. Blackberry honey is also very popular, since the fruit produces high quality nectar for bees. It is usually dark in color, almost imitative of the ripe fruit and has an earthy and fruity taste that many consider superior to other types of honey.