I have been interested in and learning about herbal remedies for the past 30 years. While in the past my learning has come reading countless books and attending workshop and classes I found a few years ago an online resource that I’ve found to be excellent. Maybe you’ve heard of them, Learning Herbs.
John and Kimberly Gallagher have created the only herbal online resource of its kind. There is a strong focus on both kids and adults learning how to identify herbs in your own backyard and surrounding areas, what they’re good for, how to process and harvest herbs, and ways herbs are used (in detail too).
The Learning Herbs website is abundantly full of free and paid lessons, educational products (I love their herbal Board game called Wildcraft – which I will write about in a future blog post), an Herbal Medicine Making Kit, they even have a herb ‘mentoring’ membership site (called Herb Mentor) which is filled with all kinds of content, fantastic how-to video’s, and much more. How I wish this was available when I was a kid (or even as a young adult), I would have devoured everything!
Of particular note for parents of budding herbal remedy maker’s, Learning Herbs even has a special section of interest for kids who want to learn about herbs, it’s called Herb Fairies. In particular what I like most is the way the Gallagher’s approach learning, through ‘cooperation’ – a skill-set that has been making some ground in recent years which I am delighted to find occurring. This is particularly true in the Wildcraft board game that teaches edible and medicinal plants, which by the way is great fun for kids and adults!
My personal feeling about everything that Learning Herbs has available is this, no matter what your age or herbal skill level is there is a lot of terrific information to take your herbal remedy making to the next level. I am a member of their herb mentor membership site and I’m loving it! I also enjoy their webinars and other things they offer. I am also an affiliate of what Learning Herbs offers, I personally utilize and enjoy what they offer and enjoy representing the best of what I find.
Also known as: Rubus fruticosus, Black Berry, Bramble, Dewberry, Goutberry, Rubi Fruticosi Folium, Rubi Fruticosi Radix, Rubus affinis, Rubus plicatus, Thimbleberry.
Blackberries are sweet darkly colored fruits that grow on bushy vines in small clusters known as drupelets. In Britain, the same plant is usually called bramble, because of its prickly thorns. The plant is also known as cloudberry (in northern Europe) and dewberry (in the American South). Blackberry brambles can become quite invasive if left to their own devices.
Many earth based and Wiccan religions claim that blackberry leaves can help return evil to enemies that sent it, and may also help remove evil spirits from your home. Superstition in the United Kingdom holds that blackberries should not be picked after Michaelmass (September 29th) as the devil has claimed them, having left a mark on the leaves by urinating on them. There is some value behind this legend as after this date wetter and cooler weather often allows the fruit to become infected by various molds such as Botryotinia which give the fruit an unpleasant look and possible toxicity.
Blackberry leaves have been traditionally used in herbal medicine as an antimicrobial and for their healthful antioxidant properties. A laboratory study published in the “International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents” in July 2009, conducted by researchers from the University of Siena, Italy, confirmed the usefulness of blackberry leaves for these purposes. Blackberry leaf extract was demonstrated to be effective against Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria associated with causing stomach ulcers. The study identified blackberry leaves as an effective alternative to antibiotics often prescribed to fight H. pylori.
Young blackberry leaves have high levels of antioxidants, or oxygen radical absorbance capacity, according to a study conducted by the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and published in the “Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry” in February 2000. The USDA study found that the leaves of blackberry and raspberry, the portion of the plant used in tea, were higher in antioxidant compounds than the berries of either fruit.
In this video, herbalist and storyteller Doug Elliott shares the wisdom of Appalachia in performing “Blackberry Boogie” at the three-day RootStalk Herb Festival established by Mountain Rose Herbs
Using Blackberry Leaf as an Herb
Commission E, the German regulatory agency for herbs, has approved blackberry leaf tea for relieving non-specific acute diarrhea. Tannins in the leaves can alleviate this problem, according to Flora Health.
The Commission E advises taking 4.5g of blackberry leaves daily as a tea or other internal supplement.
University of Maryland Medical Center lists a standard dosage of blackberry leaf tea for relieving diarrhea as 1 heaping teaspoon of dried leaves per cup of hot water, and drinking 1/2 cup per hour, and the UMMC recommends talking to a doctor before taking blackberry leaf for treating diarrhea, because certain types of diarrhea can be worsened with herbal treatment.
Both blackberry leaf and sage leaf have long been used in traditional medicine to address a number of illnesses and digestive disorders. Combining the benefits as well as the pleasing flavors of both these leaves into blackberry sage tea creates a delicious beverage with the antioxidant and healing benefits of both blackberry and sage.
Both sage and blackberry leaf are used in traditional medicine for the treatment of gastric distress, including diarrhea and stomach bloating and discomfort. Blackberry leaf is astringent and helps dry up the intestinal membranes to fight diarrhea, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Sage promotes bile flow that aids in the digestion of fats, according to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. Sage is also an anti-spasmodic, and helps to prevent the formation of intestinal gas.
Thornless blackberry fruit and leaves have antioxidant properties, according to a study published in the February 2000 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The study found that blackberry leaves had higher oxygen radical absorbance capacity than the fruit.
How to Make Blackberry Leaf Tea
There are two ways to extract the medicinal properties of herbs or plants to make tea, infusion or decoction.
When using leaves of blackberry you will want to use the infusion method.
Blackberry Leaf Tea is prepared by adding 2 teaspoons of dried leaves to a cup of boiling water, cover and let steep for 8 minutes then strain.
In order to achieve a greater medicinal effect a decoction can be prepared by using about a handful of dried blackberry leaves in a quart of water. Boil until half of the water boils off. According to medical research, it is recommended to take about 2 to 3 small cups every day. Many say that Blackberry leaf tea has no side effects and it is tea you can drink daily. I would like to add that it is a safe herb for those who are not sensitive to tannins, fortunately most people are not over-sensitive.
Blackberry leaf tea as a compress for wounds and skin rashes: it is recommended to make a compress for treating skin irritations and wounds. The best way is to make a decoction (see above) with the blackberry leaves then soak a cotton cloth in the liquid. Wring out the cloth then lay it over the affected skin area. Cover with a plastic wrap for about 30 minutes. This process can be done several times a day.
Additional Herbal Uses for Blackberry Leaves
Chewing fresh blackberry leaves releases tannins and vitamin C which can soothe and heal canker sores and inflamed gums.
Anthocyanocides contained in blackberry leaves act as powerful antioxidants that are essential for reversing cell damage resulting from free radicals which makes drinking the tea a very useful herb for wellness.
Blackberry leaf tea also helpful in regulating both heavy and light menstrual flow as well as intestinal inflammation since its leaves contains the astringent tannins. It is advisable to blend 2 oz of blackberry leaf tea with 1 oz of peppermint leaves in order to get the most effective relief.
Minor sore throat pain: blackberry leaf tea is recommended for those individuals suffering from sore throat pain as it acts as an anti- inflammatory for both throat and mouth normally caused by cold. Using the decoction method is best because it has a thicker consistency. Honey can be used to sweeten the bitter taste then simply use it as a mouthwash or as a gargle. When symptoms of sore throat are first observed, it is highly recommended to take this tea to prevent increased severity of the condition. Two to three cups of blackberry leaf tea daily is recommended to provide the effect.
Blackberry leaf is also approved in Germany for treating mild inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. This makes it beneficial for relieving sore throat, mouth sores and gum inflammation. For these purposes, it can be used as a gargle, mouthwash or tea.
Tannins, gallic acid, villosin, starch, and calcium oxalate.
Tea Steeping Time Reduces the Bitter Tannin Flavor
Tannins tend to have a ‘bitter’ flavor when the tea is steeped for too long. Therefore, it is recommended for ‘normal’ drinking of the tea that the steeping time not exceed 6 minutes.
Try a test yourself… take two individual cups of hot water and add to it the same amount of Blackberry leaf. Steep one of the cups for 5 minutes and the other for 15 minutes. Taste. Do you taste the difference?
Washes, compresses, and baths. Can be taken internally as a tea, capsule or extract. Leaf is slightly sweet and may be sprinkled on food.
The properties of tannins should always be kept in mind while applying extracts from tannin-rich plants for medicinal purpose. Tannin is basically an astringent that means that it tauten the pores and pulls out liquids from plants. In plants, tannins are large astringents molecules that easily attaches with proteins. To find the truth about these properties of tannins you may try a few small experiments. If you put tannin on your skin, you will witness it to shrink and if you apply if on your face you will notice wrinkles appearing. At the same time, tannins help to draw out all irritants from the skin. These properties impart medicinal qualities to tannin which is applied on the skin to pull out poisons from bee stings or poison oak bringing in instant relief.
The other remedial values of tannins include application on burns to heal the injury and on cuts to stop bleeding. Tannin’s ability to form a strong ‘leather’ resistance on the exposed tissues helps in protecting the wounds from being affected further. While it stops infection from above, internally tannin continues to heal the wound.
In case of third degree burns using strong tannin sources will not only prevent septicemia, but also help to save life. This traditional method has been practiced by most medicos in all countries. On the other hand, when a tannin-rich solution is poured on the flesh, it generates a sealing ‘eschar’ that often helps in growing new skin albeit temporarily. This technique requires repeated washing of the wound with tannins and this helps to eliminate the bacteria too. Hence, tannins are also said to have antiseptic properties. Interestingly, this practice is still followed in the primary health care centers in China and is also recommended as a first-aid treatment at places where emergency medical services are still inadequate or faulty.
Tannins can also be effective in curbing hemorrhages as well as restrict bare swellings. While tannins are proved haemostatics, they are also beneficial when applied on mucosal coating in mouth. Hence, herbs possessing tannins are widely used as mouthwashes, eyewashes, snuff and even as vaginal douches and also treat rectal disorders.
Tannins sour the mucus secretions and contract or squeeze the membranes of the stomach and other digestive parts in such a manner that secretions from the cells are restricted. Tannins’ anti-inflammatory effect helps to control or curb indications of gastritis, enteritis, oesophagitis and irritating bowel disorders. This action is possible by involving lymph stasis and neutralizing the autolytic enzymes.
Conventionally, tannins have also been used to cure diarrhea. Diarrhea can be caused by the irritation of the enteritis or the small intestine and is the reason for many deaths worldwide. Although diarrhea initially affects the large bowel, but a reflex action origination higher up aims at eliminating the disturbing material in the system as early as possible. Diarrhea many be considered to be a healthy action as it helps to remove the unwanted or disturbing substance from the system, but if it prolongs, it may lead to dehydration and nausea often resulting to death. Thus, in order to control the fierceness of diarrhea, application of an effective astringent medicine is recommended. An effective astringent does not stop the flow of the disturbing substance in the stomach, but helps in controlling the irritation in the small intestine.
Blackberry tea contains tannins, plant substances that can have negative effects. Blackberry tea contains hydrolysable tannins such as gallotannins and ellagitannins, which can have toxic effects on the liver in large quantities. Do not drink blackberry tea if you suffer from any type of liver disease without talking to your medical practitioner. Signs of liver damage include yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, upper right quadrant abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
Tannins can also interfere with absorption of calcium and iron. Taking blackberry tea with milk helps to neutralize its effect on calcium and iron absorption. Adding lemon, which contains vitamin C, also helps to increase iron absorption. Don’t drink blackberry tea at the same time as meals. Low calcium levels could lead to bone disorders such as osteoporosis; low iron levels can cause anemia. Signs of anemia include pallor, weakness, low energy levels and shortness of breath on exertion.
In smaller to ‘normal’ amounts Blackberry leaf tea has no negative warnings and is thought of as a very safe herb to use with the exception of those who are very sensitive to tannins.
Likewise, those who experience shortness of breath and/or nausea after having a Tamiflu shot, this is due to the Tamiflu vaccine being very high in tannins.
Each Blackberry plant can produce 10 to 20 pounds of fruit, so four to six plants can easily produce ample berries for a family of four.You might choose to plant more if you like to can or freeze crops from your garden.
Another option for some is to plant a large enough Blackberry patch to share or trade their harvest with friends, family and neighbors. Having a neighborhood where community members trade various garden harvests is a popular and excellent way to eat locally, eat fresher and ‘in-season’ foods, and help form closer bonds with those who are nearby.
Blackberries are vigorous growers that establish themselves quickly with heavy yields, excellent for home gardens. They thrive in most soil types. Cane berries are versatile and hardy in the coldest climates where other fruits fail.
Selecting A Blackberry Variety to Grow
Blackberries are divided by their growth habit (trailing, semi-trailing, and erect), and by the presence or absence of thorns (thorny or thornless). All blackberries benefit from some sort of support such as a trellis or poles to support their canes. If you have room for several plants, select early-, mid-, and late-season varieties to extend your harvest. And, some varieties, such as “Triple Crown” thornless have a very long harvest season, over 5 weeks. So spend some time considering which variety best meets your needs.
Horticulturalists have been hybridizing blackberries for nearly a century so there are many to choose from. Take note when shopping for Blackberry bushes that different varieties grow best in different sections of the country, and it’s important to select a variety that is well suited for your climate and region.
Here is an online nursery guide of berry growers from Cornell University with listings across the US and Canada with scores of cultivars and nurseries that sell them. Includes nurseries that sell blackberry and raspberry plants among others.
Selecting a Site for Your Blackberry Patch
You will want to prepare an easy-to-access location for your blackberries a year before planting as this would provide you time to clear the area and prepare the soil with greenmanure / covercrop.
Blackberries need full sun and plenty of room to grow. The soil should be a well-drained sandy loam soil.
A soil high in organic matter is beneficial under non-irrigated conditions.
If the soil is not well-drained, establish the plants in a raised bed.
All blackberries grow best in full sun, and almost all varieties are self-fruiting, meaning that you need to plant only one cultivar. As a rule of thumb, five or six plants will produce enough berries for a family of four. Each blossom will produce a sweet, juicy blackberry, and when the flowers get nipped with spring frosts it is said that the remaining good flowers will produce berries that can be more vibrant.
Very important, when selecting your site be sure to consider the variety of Blackberry you are going to plant…
Erect and semi-trailing blackberry plants should be planted about 3 to 4 feet apart.
Trailing blackberries need 6 to 8 feet between plants.
How to Build a Trellis for Blackberries
No matter which variety of Blackberry you choose, upright/erect, semi-trailing or trailing, all will benefit from being trellised.
Chuck Marsh uses the tall metal fence posts (seen in the video below) and spaces them about 20 feet apart. I agree that this is the most cost-effective form of trellising and I do not recommend pressure treated posts for gardening or landscape purposes for a number of obvious reasons.
For a ‘trailing’ variety of Blackberry plants you will want to place between your metal posts a sturdy wire from one post to the next starting at about 3 feet off the ground. Then, run another line of wire about 4 1/2 – 5 feet off the ground from post to post.
The image to the right is a line-drawing of the trellis system for ‘trailing’ varieties of Blackberries. This is the system used in the following video.
For ‘upright’ and semi-trailing Blackberry varieties a two-wire system is also best as it provides more stability for the plants when they are heavy with fruit. Keeping plants and berries off the ground is good practice as this creates a much healthier environment for plants to grow and helps prevent disease problems.
The image to the left shows how the weaving of Blackberry canes through the two wires provides support.
For semi-trailing blackberries, use two wires at heights of 3 ft and 5 ft from the ground.
The erect blackberry varieties do not require support if the tops of new canes are pruned during the summer to keep growth below 3 to 4 ft. Erect blackberries that are not topped may be trained to a one-wire trellis. For erect blackberries, use one wire attached to the post about 30 inches from the ground.
In this video, our friend and Permaculture Designer Chuck Marsh of Useful Plants Nursery in Black Mountain, NC demonstrates how he trellises prima (‘vining’) canes and prunes out flora canes, providing useful tips throughout the process of growing a Blackberry Orchard.
How to Prepare Soil for Planting Blackberries
Blackberries are perennial plants that come back year after year, it’s worth your time to get the soil prepared correctly.
Blackberries grow best in fertile, well-drained soil. Unless your soil is already perfect, you will want to add a 2″ layer of composted cow manure (preferably homemade not store-bought), compost, Rock Phosphate and Green Sand (follow package instructions for application) on top of the soil and work these in to a depth of 8″-10″.
Blackberries do best if the soil pH is slightly acidic, somewhere between 5.5 and 7.0. Take a soil pH test and, if necessary, add lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower the pH.
Planting Blackberry Canes
It’s best to plant blackberry shrubs in the early spring or, in warmer climates, in late fall. Blackberries can be purchased either bare-rooted or containerized. If your new plants are bare-rooted, shake the packing material off the roots and set the plants in a bucket of water for several hours. This keeps the roots from drying out, which you want to avoid at all costs.
In most cases, the canes of a blackberry shrub will have been cut back at the nursery before you purchase them. If your new blackberry shrubs have not been cut back already, cut the canes to 6″-8″ inches. By pruning back the canes in the first season, you will not have a crop the first year, but you will allow the plants to put their energy into developing a strong root system. The plants will be healthier and more productive in the long run.
Dig a hole that is large enough to allow the roots to spread out evenly.
Set bare-rooted plants into the soil at the depth they were grown in the nursery.
Fill in the hole and tamp down the soil.
Water the newly set plants well, but don’t fertilize until 3 or 4 weeks later.
Fertilize after growth starts.
In established plantings, fertilize in March well before the plant starts to produce flowers and fruit and again in July.
In this video, Chuck returns to the blackberry patch in early summer to check on the earlier pruning and shows a little more love to the plants…
Blackberry Patch Maintenance
As the canes emerge in the spring, evenly distribute them on the wires to form a fan pattern.
Once the canes have reached the top wire, remove the tips to encourage branching.
Trailing types set further apart require a different system; for trailing canes start with a similar trellis with wires at 3 and 5 feet, except do not tip the canes. Instead, allow them to grow to the top wire and then weave them back down to the bottom wire and back up to the top wire to fill in the space between plants.
Erect blackberries, such as Cherokee and Cheyenne, require pruning out of the root suckers that arise from the crown. During the growing season, it is desirable to allow root suckers to develop to about a 12-inch-wide row. Any growth beyond this should be eliminated.
When the new shoots of erect blackberries reach 30 to 36 inches in height, cut off the tips. This will force branching lower on the canes and will cause the canes to thicken, making them better able to support a heavy fruit crop. During the winter, prune the laterals to 12 to 14 inches for convenient harvesting and larger berries. In late winter, remove any remaining dead or weak wood. Leave healthy, vigorous canes spaced at 6 canes per linear ft.
Watering Your Blackberry Patch
Blackberries require about 1 inch of water each week during the growing season.
During fruit development, the plants will need about 2 gallons per plant each day.The best way to accomplish this is by putting out a drip irrigation system that runs for 30 minutes twice a week, this is of course a watering method for a Blackberry orchard that is well mulched to prevent soil moisture loss.
Mulch placed around the base of the plant reduces the need for water and helps keep weeds under control. Pine straw, wood chips, and seedless native low-growing grasses are good mulches.
Harvesting Ripe Blackberries
The fruit is ripe and at its peak sweetness when berries are a dull black color. Ripe berries will pull off of the plant ‘easily’, if they don’t come off with a gentle pull they are probably not quite ripe yet.
Pick fruits that are shiny black if you need to store them in your refrigerator. They won’t be as sweet, but they will last longer.
Harvest will continue for 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the variety.
Blackberry Care ‘After’ the Harvest
As soon as the last fruit has been picked in summer, cut all the old canes and burn them. This is also a good time to tip prune and thin new shoots.
Prune out all the old fruiting canes and remove them from the garden, as they no longer produce fruit. Continue to tie, tip, or train the new canes that have not produced fruit to the trellis until growth stops in the fall.
During winter, prune laterals on erect types to 12 to 16 inches, and leave only 4 to 8 canes per square yard for fruit production in the following year.
Good horticultural practices can prevent insect and disease problems. Timely pruning, removing fruited canes, and maintaining a regular harvest schedule will help minimize common pests. If necessary, apply pesticides labeled for use on edible plants to manage insect and disease problems.
Generally, only a small crop of fruit is produced in the first season. If growth is poor during this first season, cut the canes back to several inches in late winter to force development of sturdier, more fruitful canes. In the second and succeeding years, shoot growth is more vigorous and upright. Tie these new shoots to the trellis when they reach a length of 4 to 6 ft.
Some growers prefer to wait until harvest is over and old canes have been removed before tying new shoots to the wires. Pruning the old canes is critical to the prevention of disease. After harvest, prune damaged or weak canes, leaving 4 to 8 new shoots. Tie these canes to the trellis in a fan shape (do not bunch them). In the spring before growth starts, prune any laterals back to 12 inches to encourage larger fruit.
I had been a devoted “certified organic” shopper for 25 years, when something struck me while shopping in a well known supermarket in 2003. While selecting broccoli in the produce section I couldn’t help but notice that the appearance of both the conventionally grown and the “certified organic” broccoli looked exactly the same! I picked up a bunch of each; felt them, smelled them, both seemed exactly the same… so, I bought both to perform a little experiment.
I continued my shopping and as I walked each isle I began wondering… how was it that just a mere few years ago that none of my local stores sold anything organic and all of a sudden organic fresh produce, canned/jarred, and boxed organic foods lined shelves. “Hmmmm, I smell something fishy!” I said to myself.
As I walked down each isle I began losing my appetite thinking of what the USDA might have changed when they took over organic standards and regulations… I continued entertaining what might be going on and speculated; in the past few years there had NOT been a rush of people to purchase land and establish organic farms. Quite the contrary many farmers were selling their prized land to developers! Now, I was smelling a BIG skunk! I looked around at other shopper’s and wondered if they too had put 2+2 together yet??? Continue reading
The Gunnison Sage-Grouse is a spectacular but declining bird of the western sagebrush. It is restricted to seven isolated locations in Colorado and one tiny population in Utah. In early 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed it under consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The males have an extravagant spring display in which they puff out their bodies, fan their tails into a starburst, and make low, gurgling sounds with bizarre frog-like air sacs in their chests.
• It takes roughly a millennium to build an inch or two of soil.
• It takes less than 40 years, on average, to strip an inch of soil by farming in ways that are more focused on current yield than on sustaining fertility.
• A third of America’s topsoil has eroded since 1776.
In the 1970s, the United States lost 4 billion tons of soil per year.
• Roughly a third of all farmland in the world has been degraded since World War II, with annual soil erosion worldwide equivalent to the loss of 12 million hectares of arable land, or 1 percent of total arable land.
• About a third of China’s 130 million hectares of farmland is seriously eroded, and Chinese crop yields fell by more than 10 percent from 1999 to 2003, despite increasing application of synthetic fertilizers.
“Soil is not usually lost in slabs or heaps of magnificent tonnage. It is lost a little at a time over millions of acres by careless acts of millions of people. It cannot be solved by heroic feats of gigantic technology, but only by millions of small acts and restraints.” ~ Wendell Berry
"Has it ever occurred to you that beauty depends on something being identified as ugly? Therefore, the idea of beauty produces the idea of ugliness, and vice versa." ~ Wayne Dyer
"Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
"I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble." ~ Helen Keller