Plump, sweet blackberries grow wild across most of North America and are a good source of manganese and tannins. The blackberry is actually an ancient fruit, prescribed by the Ancient Greeks for gout, mentioned in the Bible, and commonly written about in British folklore.
Wild blackberries are relatives of the rose and the soft, juicy fruit grows on thorny bushes or trailing vines. Just like a raspberry, the blackberry is called an "aggregate fruit" because each berry is really a cluster of tiny fruits, or druplets. Each druplet has a seed, and, unlike raspberries, blackberry druplets remain centered around the core even after the berry is picked.
Blackberries are considered to be an astringent because of their high tannin content. Studies show that tannins tighten tissue, lesson minor bleeding, and may help to alleviate diarrhea and intestinal Inflammation. German health authorities recommend blackberries for mild infections including sore throats and mouth irritations. Traditionally, blackberries have been used to alleviate hemorrhoids because of their rich tannin content. Scientists have also reported anti-tumor properties associated with tannins found in some varieties of blackberries. Future research will explore the implications for treating human cancer. Overindulgence of tannin-rich blackberries may lead to constipation.
Blackberries abound in antioxidants, such as anthocyanin pigments, responsible for the purplish-black color of blackberries and may impart health benefits because of their Antioxidant properties. Additional antioxidants in blackberries are vitamins C and E, and ellagic acid; all may provide protection against cancer and chronic disease. Cooking does not seem to destroy ellagic acid, so even blackberry jams and desserts retain ellagic acid health benefits. Interestingly, blackberries are a natural source of salicylate, an active substance found in aspirin. Potential benefits have yet to be explored and some experts advise caution to particularly aspirin-sensitive individuals. Because of their many tiny seeds, blackberries are a source of soluble fiber, such as pectin.
Blackberries are consumed fresh, frozen, and canned, and are commonly made into jams, juices, syrups, desserts, and even wine.
The American blackberry is also called black haw or fingerberry, and contains more tannic acid than English varieties. Many wild American blackberries are derived from R. alleghanensis and do not thrive in the United Kingdom. One of the best wild varieties well worth picking is R. ulmifolius. Cultivated varieties of blackberries commonly grown on the West Coast are hybrids of blackberries and either raspberries or dewberries. The hybrids include boysenberries (dark maroon, slightly tart), loganberries (dark red, large, tart), and ollalieberries (black, shiny, sweet).
Season: May through September, with the peak season occurring in June and July. For best flavor, buy berries when they are in season where you live; undoubtedly they will be riper, tastier, and less expensive than berries flown from distant regions "out of season." The closer the berries are to the market, the fresher they should be.
Choose blackberries that are moderately firm, plump, dry, and uniform in dark purplish-black color. Fresh blackberries are not always readily available in stores because quality is lost during shipping. When purchasing, be sure to check the bottom of the blackberry container to ensure that there are no moldy or crushed berries.
Blackberries (in fact berries in general) are among the most perishable of fruits; they can turn soft, mushy, and moldy within 24 hours. Blackberries are best used the same day that they are gathered or purchased. When you bring home a box of berries, turn it out and check the fruit. Remove soft, overripe berries for immediate consumption; discard any smashed or moldy berries and gently blot the remainder dry with a paper towel. Return the berries to the box, or, better yet, spread them on a shallow plate or pan and cover with paper towels, then with plastic wrap. Blackberries will keep for about 2 days. Although blackberries have a short season and are highly perishable, they freeze quite well, allowing you to enjoy them practically year round. You can buy prepackaged frozen berries, but these may have sweetener added. Freezing berries yourself is simple. Place berries (wash and dry only if necessary) in a single layer, slightly apart on a cookie sheet. Place the berries in the freezer until they are solidly frozen, and then transfer them to an airtight container or heavy plastic bag, seal tight, pressing out all air, label and date. They will keep for 6 months.
Use fresh blackberries as soon as possible because of their limited freshness. Sort berries again before serving, discarding any stems and moldy or squished berries. Gently rinse the fruit, drain, and gently pat dry.
Serve fresh blackberries as they are, drizzled with honey or tossed with a little sugar. Or make a fruit salad with a combination of berries.
Blackberries are also delicious in pies, tarts, or cobblers. Use fresh or frozen berries in cooked desserts. When using frozen blackberries in pies, tarts, and cobblers, there's no need to thaw.
Fresh, or frozen blackberries may be used for jams. If using fresh berries, keep a few unripened berries in the mixture as they help to set the jam.
Canned blackberries may also be used in pies, tarts, and cobblers. The juice that the berries are packed in can be used for syrup or as a flavoring because the juice carries the delicious flavor and color of the blackberries.