It’s mid August and blackberry time again – yes, already.
When it comes to foraging in Britain there are some plants that are poisonous and will kill you. Then there are some that will make you sick, ones that aren’t poisonous but have irritant sap, ones that are woody and fibrous and ones that just taste disgusting. Then we have ones that can be eaten but don’t taste great, or need lots of preparation, or aren’t very nutritious (the so called famine foods). Then there are the ones that are good to eat but need a fair bit of work to bring out their best. Then, finally, we come to top of the list. These are the ones which are delicious and can be eaten as they are, or with minimal preparation. Among these, one of the finest is the blackberry, or bramble.
These juicy little bursts of sweet-sharp flavour are starting to ripen right now and will with luck carry on through August till mid September . You can turn them into jams, jellies, wine, sorbet, stuffing for fish or chicken, cakes, fruit curd, pies, crumbles, or just eat them by the handful as soon as you pick them.
They can be found alongside footpaths, towpaths and pretty much everywhere on any waste ground. I have seen them beside car parks and empty buildings right in the centre of Newbury as well as in profusion on our local commons.
But just because they are there, can – or should – you pick them?
If you are on a right of way, then yes legally you are allowed to pick blackberries and most other wild fruit, leaves, nuts and flowers for personal use. But should you? Or, to be more accurate, how many should you pick?
The general rule is to remember that you are not the only forager out there. Leave some for other humans but, more importantly, think about birds, animals, insects all of whom depend on wild food for survival. And remember that for many of them their home range might be very small: strip a few bushes bare, and a vole or a beetle might face the choice between starvation and the dangers of having to invade hostile territory.
Also, for a plant the flowers and seeds are their way to produce the next generation. Their leaves are the power supply to fuel that continuity. If you weaken the plant too much, it will not be strong enough to spread, or possibly even to survive. This can happen even for a plant that is abundant; some flourishing areas of wild garlic are now in trouble because of over harvesting.
Pick lightly and move on. If there is only a small quantity of a plant then don’t pick at all. Ideally with sensible blackberrying the bushes should look as full when you finish as before you arrived.
The Rats Whiskers Natural Infusions