Bramble/Blackberry--Rubus species

Brambles belong to the rose family Rosaceae, in the Order Rosales and placed in the genus Rubus.

The name bramble {brymbyl} signifies prickly. There are several names that have been attached to the shrub through the ages such as brambleberry, brameberry, bramble-kite, and bumble kite, along with a plethora of dialect names such as backbides, blacklegs,bummelberries and garten berries.

It may surprise some readers that there are around 400 species of bramble growing in the UK. each has been defined  by botanists. however, the layman would be hard pressed  to tell one species from another, and thus, for sake of reviewing the bramble they will all come under the same umbrella-a bramble is a bramble is a bramble!!!


Description of the bramble.

The bramble is a very familiar vigorous, thorny, scrambling shrub which may be encountered almost anywhere in the UK. They spread by means of arching stems that have grown upwards then curve down towards the ground {or they may grow in length along the ground] at this point they take root.

In the first year of growth the branch is referred to as a primocane and can grow exceedingly quickly up to 6-9 metres. These canes carry large leaves divided into 5-7 leaflets but does not produce any flowers. 

New growth on top of the arching stem

In the second year, it is termed as being a floricane and the stems do not grow any longer, but, lateral buds break to produce flowers. The leaves on the lateral shoots are smaller with 3-5 leaflets. Leaves are prickly and toothed and turn reddish purple in autumn.

The flowers which are 2-3 cm in diameter have 5 white or pinkish coloured petals. They are produced in late spring and early summer on the tips of the flowering shoots. Some flowers may be encountered really late in the season. 

Fruits in various stages of development

The berries are drupes that merge together into a multiple fleshy fruit known as a syncarpet. These are referred to as aggregate fruits. The quality of the fruits is greatly dependent on pollinators and any interruption due to bad weather or other influences will determine how good the fruits will be.

they change from green to red to a deep purple-black. The lowest berry right at the tip of the stalk is the first to ripen and is the sweetest and fattest of them all. In time the other fruits ripen these are not as large or as juicy. The smaller berries further up the stalk may only ripen by October. These are hard and slightly bitter.

Medicinal uses-Historical facts

Blackberries have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries.Culpeper in the 1600s states in his Complete Herbal---" The buds, leaves and branches, while they are green are good for ulcers and putrid sores of the mouth and throat, and for quincy and to heal fresh wounds and sores, but the flowers and fruits, when unripe are very binding and retrain bloody flux, lasks and spitting of blood.

The leaves and brambles, green or dry are excellent lotions for sores in the mouth or secret parts;the decoction of them and of the dried branches, bind the belly and restrain the profusion of womens' courses. the powder of the leaves strewed on cankers and running ulcers tend to heal them. The juice of the leaves and of the berries combined may be preserved for the aforesaid uses"

In the Family Herbal 1820, John Hill states; " The most neglected of things have their use. The buds of bramble-leaves, boiled in spring water, and the decoction sweetened by honey, are excellent for a sore throat. A syrup made of the juice of the unripe fruit, with very fine sugar, is cooling and astringent. It is good in immoderate fluxes of the menses, and even in purgings. The berries are to be gathered for this purpose when they are red."

Unopened flower buds

Modern day uses

Bramble is used against diarrhoea, skin rashes, eczema and mouth and throat infections.

Brambles are a source of vitamins, antioxidents and minerals. The vitamins include Vitamin A and Vitamin C and minerals such as potassium and calcium. 

The berries contain numerous large seeds. These seeds contain oil which is rich in Omega 3some fats, protein, dietry fibre and organic acids, tannins and flavone. If consumed regularly it is claimed they alleviate lung inflammation, thrombosis, cardiovasular disease and many others.

A tea made from the dried leaves is aromatic and soothing. They can be bought in tea bag form from health shops and other outlets. An infusion of the leaves make a good gargle.

The berries can be used for pies, summer puddings, fruit fools, and salads, jellies and of course jams.

Any one using herbal preparations for the first time is well advised to click on Wild Herb Advise on the right hand side of this page. 

Brambles and wildlife.

Brambles provide food for certain caterpillars and some grazing animals, such as rabbits and particularly deer. Caterpillars of the Concealer moth Alabonia geoffrella { Northumbria} have been found feeding inside dead blackberry shoots.

The flowers are a source of nectar for many insects including bees and butterflies. The fruit is eaten by birds and small mammals such as the wood mouse. these creatures help in the dispersal of the seeds via their droppings.

 Birds such as the white throat and grasshopper warbler build their nests in bramble thickets. 

The bramble when established is almost impenetrable to larger predators hence they afford creatures security and concealment.

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