History of Blackberry
Blackberry is a plant with a rich history of folklore and magick, as well as a good dash of culinary sweetness. This herb can be found growing wild all the world over and has been enjoyed as a delicious treat, a source of shelter, and used in various medical treatments for millennia. Magically connected to protection, healing, harvest, fairies, and sorrow, the blackberry is a deeply magickal fruit that can be used in many ways. Let’s dive in!
Known officially as Rubus fruticosus, blackberry’s name is probably the least magickal thing about it. Rubus simply means “bramble” (so a thick, thorny bush, or tangle of viney branches), and fruticosus seems to mean the same thing (although it obviously has ties to our modern English word “fruit”).
The English word blackberry is likewise straightforward. It means “fruit of the bramble”, which stems (see what I did there?) from an Old English word from the 12th century, “blaceberian” which is ‘black’ + ‘berry’. The word “bramble” means ‘rough, prickly shrub’ so this fits with the blackberry and its very prickly bush.
Blackberries are very closely related to raspberries, and like the raspberry, they are a member of the rose family.
Blackberries seem to be one of those fruits (and plants) that has found its way into common folklore in most parts of the world. My guess is because the brambles grow wild and are found near streams or at the edges of forests, they took on this wild, deep, and mysterious power in folklore. They are prickly and can be painful to touch, but are also a source of protection and shelter for many animals. This is reflected in many lines of literature, which I’ll expand on in the following section. For now, let’s look at some folklore specific to blackberry.
Many of the folklore beliefs talk of passing under an archway of branches and brambles of the blackberry. It was believed that if you passed under this archway you could be cured of hernias, skin boils, and whopping cough. According to one source the saying went “in bramble, out cough, here I leave the whooping cough”. There was a belief in some parts of Britain that the season of the blackberry was the same when babies often got sick…why this is I don’t know, but there was an association.
Maybe it is because there is another folklore belief that the Devil, who was kicked out of Heaven on Old Michaelmas Day (Oct 11), fell into a thorny patch of brambles. He was so angry that he either burned, spat, put his cloak on, or cursed the blackberries, and the belief was that you shouldn’t eat any blackberries after September 29th because of this. One other Christian myth says that Jesus’s crown of thorns was made of brambles, which is why the berries turn from red to black.
Yet another folk belief is that blackberries are protective against vampires. Blackberry brambles planted near a home ensured the vampire would not make it to the home because he’d get distracted counting all the berries.
It was also believed that blackberries were tied to fairies. You were suppose to leave the first fruits on the bramble for the fairies. This was known as the ‘fairy harvest’.
It was believed that when harvesting you should pick the berries during a waning moon.
Medicinal & Culinary Uses of Blackberry
Although not as popular as raspberry, blackberry leaves were also used in a medicinal context. Since ancient Greek and Roman times blackberry roots and leaves were used for bowel issues and to treat the whooping cough. The leaves were often boiled then placed on the skin to treat insect bites and skin infections, like boils. They were also used to treat gout.
It is of course obvious that blackberries are a very common and delicious staple in the kitchen. They are used in sweets like cobblers, cupcakes, scones, jams, jellies, crumbles, and even wines and cordials. They are also enjoyed as a treat by themselves. They contain many healthy nutrients so they are nutritious to both humans and animals alike.
Other uses of blackberry were by Native American tribes to dye clothing, and the vines were used to make twine and rope. One interesting tidbit I read during my research was that during the Civil War the fighting was suspended at intervals so that troops from both sides could forage the wild blackberry bushes. They would not only eat the berries, but use the leaves to make teas to aid with dysentery and other issues. Blackberries were also collected by children and then made into cordials and tonics for soldiers. One article reads:
“In August, 1864, the Sanitary Commission set all the children in the country to picking blackberries for the soldiers, their mothers and sisters to distill from them a refreshing cordial and tonic. In September, acknowledging that ‘rivers of blackberry juice had flowed in upon them from all parts of the country, and that it would be impossible to think of a more grateful flood,’ it made another call upon the boys and girls, asking for peaches, not canned, nor preserved, but simply dried. Peaches were never so plentiful, and could never be turned to better account. The peach had never borne a large part in the charities of mankind, and its history had had but slight connection with the practice of the healing art, but its opportunity had now come. Do not can the peaches, said the commission to the children, and waste no sugar upon them. Cut them carefully in halves, and take out the stones. Lay the halves upon clean boards or upon sheds and roofs sloping to the south. Dry them thoroughly in the sun, if possible; if not, put them in slightly heated ovens, or toast them gently upon the hearth, or before the stove. You cannot dry them too thoroughly, boys; and you cannot send too many, girls. If there are any left when the sick and the convalescent have had their fill, they will do no harm to the well men in the trenches and the field.”“Blackberries for the Soldiers”
In Magickal Workings
In a magickal context, blackberry seems to have a unique energy. It isn’t so much that it’s properties are unusual, it is just that its energy is very deep and mysterious. Just like its thorny brambles protect the beautiful, dark, and delicious fruit, the blackberry’s magick is both hard to reach, yet undoubtedly worth the trouble when it is accessed. That being said, here are some magickal properties of the blackberry fruit and plant.
- Fairy magick
- For healing, especially skin and coughing issues
- Protection against curses or other evils
- For fertility and lust spells
- For spells to process grief, remorse, sorrow, etc.
- To persevere through trials and tribulations
You can use several parts of the blackberry plant for these spells or rituals. Leaves can be used symbolically (or physically) for healing. The stems of the plant can be used in wreaths or wands for protective purposes. The berries themselves can be used in kitchen magick for any of the above properties. Bake a blackberry cobbler and place an intention of lust or fertility (with consent of course). Set a plate of fresh berries out for the fairies, or go blackberry picking in the wild and commune with them in nature. (*From what I’ve researched there are NO toxic look-a-likes for blackberries…but of course take precautions when wildcrafting). Incorporate blackberry wine into a ritual for any sabbat, Imbolc through Lughnasadh. Use the berries, or roots to naturally dye some fabric and use that in a spell. Blackberries are so easy to get a hold of, the possibilities are endless. Use your intuition!
We are going to go simple and classic on this one because why mess with perfection!? I chose a Blackberry Cobbler recipe based on the Pioneer Woman’s version. Buttery, berry-y, and delicious with some cream or ice cream, this is a fairy simple, easy recipe that you can make spring or summer to celebrate and get in touch with the delicious blackberry fruit.