Blackberries (Rubus) are a part of a large plant family also called brambles. As with raspberries, black raspberries and dewberries, the name derives from the growing custom of the wild plant, which produces long, trailing, unmanageable vines. Most domesticated varieties grow on tall, stiff canes, and their shiny reddish-black fruits ripen in late summer.
Blackberries originally grew wild in areas, on hillsides and along woodland borders. Unmanaged and untended, the trailing vines wrapped themselves around whatever they came into contact with as well as with one another, often creating impenetrable thickets which made most of the fruit difficult to get at. At best, only the berries growing on the face vines could be harvested, and the rest were left to decay or serve as food for whatever wild creature was able to reach them. Blackberry foliage is deep green with toothed leaves growing from brief stems across the canes, plus they do best in areas that get at least 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight every day. While normally thorny, plants which produce berries on thornless canes are also offered. What appears to be one berry is actually a mixture of tinier berries, called drupes, surrounding a greenish-white center that emerges from the blackberry blossoms at fruit-setting moment.
While trailing blackberry plants are still available, many of today’s cultured varieties grow on tall, stiff canes that originate from crowns buried in the soil and from which new shoots form always. If not removed, the shoots sap energy in the fruit-producing branches which grow upright on erect plants or develop across the ground on trailing varieties. Once new blackberry plants are established, it takes three years for them to keep the first harvest. They perform best in sandy soil that drains readily. Some growers choose to cultivate their blackberries on raised beds, since standing water can be fatal to blackberry plants. It’s also important to place mulch down at the base of the plants to control weeds, which can drain nutrients in the soil and encourage disease and pest infestations. Erect plants must be trimmed to keep them at a manageable height, and dead canes must be removed to divert energy to the fruit-bearing canes.
Blackberries are grown commercially as well as in the house garden. They are canned, frozen, made into jams, jellies, syrups and wines, and used in baked goods such as pies and cakes. The sweet berries can be left complete and additional to desserts and salads or crushed into sauces. Care should be taken when harvesting them as not to pack them too closely together. Freshly picked berries should not be washed and picked over until ready to work with, since this promotes rapid deterioration of this fruit.
Oregon State University reports which blackberries contain the proven antiviral and antibacterial chemicals gallic acid and rutin, in addition to a recognized anticarcinogenic called ellagic acid which delays the onset of certain types of cancers. They also have one of the greatest antioxidant levels among other fruits which were analyzed, in addition to high levels of potassium, calcium, folic acid, potassium, potassium and protein, and vitamins A, B, E and K. One cup of blackberries comprises 62 calories, 7.6 grams of fibre, less than 8 grams of total sugars and just 1 milligram of sodium.