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Introduction to Blackberries

The blackberry (also called bramble, brummel, brambleberry and bly) is an accumulation of numerous tiny fruits known as drupes. However, botanically speaking blackberries are not true berries. They are an aggregate fruit where each collection of drupelets develops from a single flower and each cluster is consumed whole and not as single units. The blackberry is a deep purple colored fruit, with fragile smooth skin. The centre of the fruit holds a greenish core that penetrates to the bottom of the fruit. It belongs to the Rosaceae family which is a wide ranging group with more than 375 species.

Blackberries are natural inhabitants of a number of continents. The domesticated varieties of the plant have been used as borders for property protection, for medical uses and human consumption. Due to the fruit’s fragile nature and short shelf life, almost 90% of blackberries are used in frozen form. Classification of blackberries is determined by the type of the plant. There are the upright, semi-straight and trailing varieties of plants which are further divided into thorny and thorn-less cultivars. The semi-straight and trailing varieties of plants require extensive framework for support while the upright plants require no such support. The plants can reach as tall as ten feet and the fruit can be harvested from stems that are two years old. Properly maintained plants can produce fruit for as long as fifteen years.

History of Blackberries

The exact origin of blackberries is difficult to trace, the blackberry plant is a native of North and South America, Africa, and Australia. It is the most geographically spread fruit known. Greeks and Romans employed blackberries in medicines and the Native Americans used them as dyes, medicine and for food. In some cultures they were believed to offer protection against curses and spells provided they were collected during specific phases of the moon. It was also believed that boils were healed by crawling through blackberry bushes. Ancient Greeks depended on the blackberry for gout; this influence was so strong that in the eighteenth century they were commonly known as ‘goutberry’.

Initially blackberries were not cultivated and simply grew in the wild. Anyone wanting the fruit would have to find bush growing in the wild and gather the berries. In Europe, blackberries have been used for more than two thousand years. Germans called blackberries ‘brombeere’ while in old English they were known as ‘bramble’. Ancient Anglo-Saxons used the fruit to bake primitive pies in celebration of the first fruit feast of Lughnasadh at the start of August. In ancient times the blackberry was not used too frequently, but its roots, leaf and bark were employed for medicinal applications. They were used to treat whooping cough, venomous bites, boils and sore throat. According to some documentation they were even used for ulcers in 1771.

Health Benefits of Blackberries

The phytochemicals, minerals, vitamins and fiber work collectively to lower the danger of heart disorders, according to the publication of an article in “Nutrition Reviews” in 2010. This is carried out by minimizing inflammation and oxidative stress when antioxidant concentration is increased in the blood through the consumption of blackberries. The Anthocyanins in berries are responsible for the dark colour of the berries, combined with the elelagic acid they also make potent antioxidants that are believed to provide protection against cancer and chronic disease.

Regular use of blackberries may also help to prolong age related cognitive function. According to a study published in a 2009 issue of “Nutritional Neuroscience” animals fed with a 2% blackberry enhanced diet, produced better results on short-term memory tests.

The elevated content of tannin in blackberries helps to not only cut down on inflammation but provide relief from haemorrhoids and alleviate diarrhoea. The large helping of vitamin K helps to clot blood and strengthen bones. It also helps to reduce the effects of nausea and vomiting in pregnant women. Phytoestrogens aid in soothing the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. It is also believed that phytoestrogens may contribute to brain functioning and immune health. Salicylate, a substance most commonly found in aspirin and pectin aids in lowering of cholesterol. Vitamin C is another overwhelming antioxidant that improves the immune system. Blackberries also protect the skin against premature wrinkles and other age related damage.

Nutritional Value of Blackberries

According to some sources blackberries top more than one thousand antioxidant foods in U.S.A. A one cup serving of blackberries provides 32% of the fiber requirement for the day at 8 grams. Additionally it delivers one gram of fat, two grams of protein, 14 grams of carbohydrates and only 62 calories. It is a mighty provider of vitamin C, supplying fifty percent of the daily requirement. Vitamin C is crucial in cell repair, fighting against free radicals and repairing wounds. It supplies 36% of the daily needs of vitamin K, which is needed for blood clotting. Furthermore, it delivers 9% of the folate requirement, which is essential in preventing neural tube birth defects, creation of DNA and red blood cells. One cup also provided 7% of a day’s needs of magnesium and potassium, 6% needs of vitamin A and E, 5% of iron, zinc and niacin.

Blackberries are also rich in many phytochemicals like polyphenols, flavonoids, salicylic acid, ellagic acid, tennins, gallic acid and anthocyanins. Blackberries also have many big seeds which are not always favored by customers, but they too contain important nutrients. They house oils loaded with omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 fats (linoleic acid), along with carotenoids, ellagic acid, ellagitannins, dietary fibre and protein.

Blackberries consumed soon after harvest have the highest nutritional benefits. However, according to some evaluations frozen blackberries do not lose any significant amounts of nutrients. As a matter of fact, some sectors believe that if a fruit is allowed to ripen properly on the bush, and frozen immediately they might be better than those that sit on store shelves or ripen during transport.

Uses of Blackberries

All parts of the blackberry plant have been used throughout history. Indigenous America Indians used blackberry vines to make twine, while they were planted around European villages for protection against large wild animals. The berries were used to make the Indigo coloured dye. Beyond the practical uses of the tree itself, the berries have long since been turned into pies, crumbles, jams and more recently as flavouring for frozen yoghurt, ice-creams, and smoothes.

One of the easiest and best ways to use blackberries is to juice the berries for a refreshing nutrient loaded drink. For the sweetest, and best tasting juice pick the ripest berries that are firm and not over done. Berries not fully ripe will yield juice that is sour while overripe berries may contain parasites. After a through wash in cold water, follow the instructions for juicing.

Sweet Blackberry Juice

  • Pulp the berries by hand, or in a blender.
  • Allow the pulped berries to stand for half an hour. This allows the juice extracted to settle and draws additional juice from the flesh.
  • Strain the rested juice then press the remaining pulp through a strainer while lightly pressing with the back of a spoon or a spatula. This will allow the maximum juice to be drawn out. For individuals wishing to retain more pulp in their juice strain through a coarse colander and for those who enjoy their fruit without any pulp, cheesecloth might be a better option.

If you pick your own berries during peak season, the juice can be extracted and frozen for several months in a sealable container. Otherwise, it can be kept in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

To make topping for pancakes, waffles or even ice cream the juice can be thickened. Use one cup of sugar for each one cup of blackberry juice (may be adjusted to personal tastes), and boil down to desired thickness.

Clinical Trials

It appears that adding more blackberries to your diet may help to lower the risk of cancer. According to a “Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry” study published in December 2006 blackberry extracts hindered the growth of cancer cells. The greater the quantity of extracts, the greater the amount of blocking that took place. The extracts were tested on human oral, breast, prostate, and colon tumor cells. The nutrients responsible for this blocking include flavonols, anthocyanins, gallotannins, proanthocyanidins, flavanols, ellagitannins, and phenolic acids.

The German agency for regulating herbs, Commission E, has permitted the use of blackberry leaf tea for diarrhea. It is believed the tannins in the leaves are responsible for the ease of the problem. The commission recommends 4.5 grams daily as the standard dose. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends one piled teaspoon of dried leaves for each cup of water to be consumed every half an hour. Blackberry leaves have also been approved for treating mild inflammation of the mucous membranes, meaning that drinking blackberry tea can be beneficial for sore throat, gum inflammation and sores in the mouth.

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About Andy Williams

In a processed food culture, simply eating may not be enough. Dr. Andy Williams is a scientist with a strong interest in Juicing and how it can supply the body with the nutrients it needs to thrive in modern society. You can subscribe to his free daily paper called Juicing The Rainbow and follow him on Facebook orTwitter.

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