Some things I learned from blackberries

Some things I learned from blackberries July 9, 2014


Green as glass
White as snow
Red as blood
Black as coal
What am I?

-Traditional riddle


“The Hermetic tradition defines three magical works: the black work of deathlessness and destruction; the white work of illumination and rebirth; and the red work of power over the earth. This ancient color triad…corresponds to the first three colors to be defined in human languages. But the next color to be defined in language is green, which is the complement to red as white is to black.” – from “The Green Side of Life: Appalachian Magic as a Site of Resistance” by Rodger Cunningham


Blackberries bloom around here in late spring, roughly corresponding to Beltane, and often accompanied by a cold snap known colloquially as “blackberry winter.” They start ripening around the summer solstice, and their disappearance as the muskedines and persimmons start to get ripe is a sign of the advent of fall. It is a member of the Rosaceae family; the flowers are white and have five petals, and of course it has thorns and produces fruit.  All of this puts it in a similar eco-symbolic position as the hawthorn, and the magical use is similarly protective (in the case of blackberry, getting rid of “poison” or returning evil to the sender). Medicinally blackberry, especially the fruit and the bark of the root, is used for digestive problems. As a young girl my mother was given blackberry wine to cure an upset stomach.

It’s tough, hardy, even invasive; blackberry left unchecked tends to take over an area and make it its own. Like poke weed, another of my favorites, blackberry doesn’t need any coddling. Use won’t hurt it; dig some of the roots for medicine or magic and there will still be plenty more. It’s a rowdy, rough, prickly plant, but it holds sweetness and good medicine for those willing to get a little bit scratched. I foraged a good bit as a child, and still recall the sense of accomplishment I gained from picking enough blackberries for a cobbler then making it myself. As an adult, the realization that I know how to find food even when money is short is equally empowering.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from a lifetime among blackberry brambles:

  • You are going to get scratched. It’s not the end of the world. You don’t have to make it worse though.
  • You are not the only one who likes blackberries. So do birds. And ants.  And other people, who may get there first.  This is not the end of the world either.
  • I don’t think snakes like blackberries, but they do like shade and places to hide.  Watch where you put your feet.
  • Blackberries reward you if you are patient, observant, and gentle. However, if you get grabby, greedy, or too much in a damn hurry, you will pay for it with blood…or worse, by dropping the berries you already have in your hand.
  • Some things are going to be out of your reach right now. If you’re willing to push your way through the brambles, you may be able to reach them. It might be worth it. It might not. You have to decide that for yourself.
  • Berries that are perfectly ripe are perfectly sweet.  Berries that are under-ripe are sour. Berries that are over-ripe taste slightly fermented.  You can have more berries that won’t taste quite right, or fewer ones that are ideal. That, too, is your choice.
  • However much you pick is enough. But if you want to make jelly or blackberry wine, you may have to spend all day or freeze what you’ve got and go back a few times.
  • Change your perspective and you’ll find more.
  • Sometimes it’s better to go around.
  • On the other hand, if you can find your way to the middle of a large patch, nobody is likely to bother you there…


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