Herb of the Year 2020 – Brambles
(Blackberries, Raspberries, et al.)
Brambles are a prickly scrambling vine or shrub such as blackberry or raspberry or other wild shrub of the Rose family.
Many of us were introduced to brambles in the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty – a princess who is doomed to sleep for 100 years in a castle surrounded by impenetrable brambles. It was only when a prince was able to fight his way through the thorns that she was awakened and set free.
Brambles belong to the family Rubus which also includes roses, another plant renowned for its thorns. Brambles are usually understood to include both blackberries and raspberries. They are an excellent barrier for magic castles not just because they are armed with thorns, but because the stems arch instead of growing straight. The tips of the arching stems can also root in the soil. Multiply that by a tendency to sucker and be invasive and you have the perfect barrier or the perfect portal.
The Irish believed that on Samhain, our Halloween, when spirits both friendly and unfriendly roamed the land, if you wished to summon an evil spirit to do your bidding, you could do so by concentrating on your wish while crawling through a rooted arch of bramble.
The sweet fruits of the blackberry and raspberry have long been used in jellies, jams and pies. But they are not the only useful parts of the plants. The roots yield an orange dye. The canes themselves can be split and woven into baskets and bee skeps or even used to hold down the thatch on a roof.
Brambles have been used medicinally for thousands of years. All parts of the plants were used. It was believed that chewing the leaves would cure canker sores or bleeding gums. A tea made from the leaves, bark or stems was thought to cure whooping cough. The roots, which are known for their astringency, were used to treat diarrhea and dysentery. The berries were prescribed to cure scurvy, caused by a lack of Vitamin C. Those doctors of old were on to something. The berries are, indeed, high in Vitamin C.
You can grow brambles. Modern cultivars of both blackberries and raspberries have been developed that have fewer thorns, are less invasive and bear larger and sweeter fruit. Check with your local nursery to find out which of the new brambles grow best in your area. Make sure you also buy bird netting to cover your bushes when they are fruiting. Birds and other wildlife love the berries as much as we do.
And when you plant brambles, you will not only be rewarded with sweet treats, but you may also invite a little magic into your yard.
Contributing Author Caren White, Master Gardener, Member of The Herb Society of America Delaware Unit