Blackberry shrub {Rubus ursinus}

Rubus ursinus (Blackberry, Bramble Bush, Dewberry)

Description: Tough trailing vines with wicked thorns give Blackberry the synonym–plant barbwire.  Stems 1′-8′ long. Leaflets havea rough serrated edge & are grouped in threes.  The white flowers have 5 petals. The berry is a compact cluster of shiny black globes which do not pull away from teh central core.  The Rubus genus contains a number of species which can be used in a manner similar to R. ursinus.

Habitat: Disturbed sites, along trails & roads, canyons, open woodlands, abandoned farmland. California to British Columbia.

Caution: Avoid the obvious thorns.

One potential problem with Blackberry is confusion with Poison Oak.  The three-leaf-pattern shared by both poison oak & some species of Blackberries makes it imperative that you make sure your plant has thorns before touching the foliage. Do not take a chance on a case of mistaken identity.

Uses: Blackberries are excellent fresh. Jams & jellies can be made from the fruit:

Civil War Jam

4 cups Blackberries, 2 cups brown sugar

Stir the sugar & Blackberries together & mash.  Boil the mixture gently over low heat for 30 minutes to an hour. The resultant jam may be stored in your freezer or can be poured hot & sealed in sterile jars.

Other: During the Civil War, the blue & grey troops would often make a truce so that the men could go foraging for Blackberries.The berries were thought to be helpful in preventing dysentery & certain stomach disorders. It must have been felt that the men’s health was more important than the war– at least at the moment.

Bibliography: Edible and Poisonous Plants of Northern California, by James Wiltens,Common Edible and Useful Plants of the West, by Muriel Sweet

Database Entry: Melanie Dixon & Distance Everheart 4-7-13

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