Wild blackberry foraging tips from the expert

Ripe blackberries

As a part of Organic September I decided to promote foraging, an activity which gets you moving and rewards you with highly nutritious, organic food. There are several wild foods which you could forage for but in this post I decided to focus on wild blackberries. Since I am not an expert on this subject matter I teamed up with lovely Matt from Eden Wild Food who is an expert in foraging, and he’s been picking wild foods since his childhood. He currently runs foraging and wild courses in Derbyshire, Cheshire and the North West.
He kindly answered my questions about wild blackberry picking and this hopefully gives you some great tips and help you eat more organic foods, well at least more organic blackberries!

When looking for blackberries, what are the best spots and places to look for? Where do blackberries normally grow?

Blackberries, or Bramble is actually a mass of micro species, but for the purpose of the forager can be treated as one and the same. They grow in woodland, scrub, waste ground, by the sides of roads, anywhere they can get a foothold, especially on acid soils, chances are there’s a patch close to where you live, even in urban environments. They will often grow through other bushes, small trees and hang over walls etc, as a member of the rose family they are good climbers.

How to find and pick the sweetest blackberries? Can you give us some tips on this? (I tried to find some great tasting blackberries at the weekend but I came across many sour ones!)

I like to pick my blackberries in full sun, as the warmth seems to make them sweeter. My secret trick for picking the sweetest berries is don’t just go by colour, many black coloured berries will still be sour and lacking in sweetness. The way you test ripeness is as follows. Take the berry between your thumb and index finger gently. Rotate your hand (index finger up and towards, thumb down and away) about 45 degrees whilst gently grasping the berry. If the berry is ripe it will pop off easily, if it’s still under ripe it wont, and you can leave it for later.

Testing for ripeness
Testing for ripeness

What are the essentials to take with you while blackberry picking?

The beauty of blackberry picking is accessibility, anyone can do it, I’ve picked them whilst waiting to catch the bus when I’d skipped breakfast. If you want to collect large amounts you want to make sure you have some sort of container, Tupperware etc, stout shoes and thick trousers. You don’t want to be picking around brambles in shorts. I like to have a stick to hook down higher fruiting stems, and to whack down any nettles (you can also eat the tips of these, delicious and packed with goodness).

What’s the best time to pick blackberries? Any specific date range? And does the best time to pick blackberries depend on where we are in the UK?

I think the only advice here is to pick them when they appear ripe. I see a lot of people getting over excited and picking them when they are under ripe early in the season, but if you see blackberries and use my method above, you’re set. I would say in a sunny year they can appear in July and go right through to October, it varies a lot by weather, and how far north or south you are. Also for every 100m of altitude you will likely be at least a week behind a similar area at sea level.

Are there any risks involved when blackberry picking in the wild and if yes, what are they? Also In terms of safety, what should everyone be aware of? Can you give us any tips on picking blackberries safely?

Unlike the USA we aren’t really plagued with snakes in this part of the world, and I’ve never come across an Adder when I’ve been foraging yet, so it’s not a major worry there. The only things I would want to consider when picking blackberries is tripping, falling, scratching yourself, getting stung by nettle etc, to be honest I just laugh at this, it’s just a kind of right of passage as a developing forager. The other issue at this time of year is that the over ripe fruits can attract a lot of wasps, worse case for a lot of people is a nasty sting or two, but if you have allergies to wasps then obviously take extra care. In an urban environment if you’re picking by roads consider road safety and don’t put yourself in danger, however juicy they may look, there will always be more in a safer location. In the country, if you are in fields, especially if you take dogs with you, beware of cows and not to spook them.

Could you reveal any of the good areas you know in the UK which are great for blackberry picking?

Blackberries are all around us, for example I picked 20 kilos from a neighbours’ garden last year, I think that’s why most people have probably thought about foraging for them, if not tried it already. There’s no need to go to specific areas geographically, but just look around your local area, for waste ground, hedgerows, and wild places where blackberries will thrive. They are so common you can be picky and just go after the easier to access denser fruiting patches.

Anything else you would like to add that would benefit people who want to go foraging for blackberries?

I would say just get out there and have fun, take a camera/camera phone and take photos of other plants, berries etc., and see if you can identify them also. Where you find blackberries you also find many other varieties of food you can forage for free – use it as an opportunity to learn more. If you need help with identification of plants try a good guide book, such as Richard Mabey – Food for Free, or join foraginguk.proboards.com – a good UK based foraging forum where they will happily answer any questions.

And the last question… After you’ve picked the blackberries, what’s your favourite way of eating them? And can you give us any tips on how to keep them fresh for longer?

Blackberries have a kind mould spores that live on the berry and these will do you no harm but will mean the berries won’t last more than a day in the fridge without going mouldy. I like to wash my berries in a one part spirit vinegar to 10 or 20 parts water solution. This kills the spores and extends the shelf life, the supermarkets do something similar with cultivated berries, but with a bleach solution (not so nice). So once you have done that you have berries that you can have fresh in the morning with yoghurt etc, or you can simply freeze them to chuck into pies, crumbles, and smoothies throughout the year if you picked a lot. My absolute favourites would have to be blackberry fool, and a Blackberry Granita. Both of these are fairy simple to make and are stunning.

Thank you to Matt for sharing his knowledge on blackberry foraging with us. I think he gave us some really great blackberry picking tips! Hopefully we’ll have him in the future again with more tips and advice on foraging. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter to get more tips on foraging and see the coming courses he is hosting on wild foods.

Now over to you! What experience have you got with blackberry foraging? Any good ones or bad ones? Tell us about it!

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