Was there a favorite wild blackberry bush in your childhood? Did you go berrying, enjoy their dark sweetness, get all sticky? Do you like blackberry leaf tea? You’ll be pleased to know blackberries are excellent for your health.

Blackberries are a member of the rose family and are native to North America as well as Europe. Native Americans have many uses for blackberries besides just eating them as is and making them into syrups, jams, cakes and pies. Dried blackberries are used in pemmican, and put in hot water to drink. The juice is used in inks and dyes, including hair dye. The stems can be fed to animals or the fiber can be used for rope or weaving. The brambles are put up as barriers to thwart attackers. The leaves and roots are very astringent and are traditionally made into a decoction to stop diarrhea, internal bleeding and vomiting. You can also gargle it for sore throat. It helps with menstrual cramps, eases labor and prevents miscarriages, and is used in powdered form for toothache and to stop bleeding. Ancient Greek doctors used blackberry juice to cure gout and eye infections. In Rome, blackberry leaves were known to be good for teeth. They were given to soldiers to chew like gum. Sailors liked them too for their scurvy-preventing qualities.

Like the other fruits and herbs we’ve covered in this series, blackberries are extremely high in antioxidants, especially Vitamins C and A. They also have minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and a number of polyphenol antioxidants which are being studied for their ability to cure and prevent cancer. The medical jury is still out on a number of other possible benefits, but preliminary research shows blackberries may help to prevent diabetes, heart and lung trouble and blood clots.

Drink blackberry juice and make blackberry root tea at the first sign of a cold or flu. Take one tablespoon of powdered blackberry root and decoct it in water for about ten minutes, strain and put in a little honey or cinnamon. Drink slowly. Some people believe you should not use blackberry root tea for more than a week without a break. Blackberry leaf and berry tea can be drunk any time. It can also be used as a face wash and you can put blackberry leaves in your bath water.

Want More Blackberries?

Unless you want to go to the time and trouble of preparing the seeds, the best way to start a blackberry patch is to buy seedlings from your local nursery. Someone there can tell you more about how to plant them. Blackberries will grow best in very loose, well-drained soil and prefer full sun. Plant in the first days of fall while it’s still warm, or in the spring when the earth warms after the last frost. Put them in fairly deep holes and refill with soil. Space them about four feet apart — they will spread. Keep an eye on them as they can be aggressive. Water regularly and mulch well. You will have to wait a year for the berries.

Blackberry plants need to breathe so carefully prune the old growth every spring. Or save yourself some work by putting up a trellis or wire fencing and get your blackberries to climb.

The fresh leaves and buds can be gathered and dried to use any time. The fruit can be dried or frozen. When you’re working with blackberries, either don’t wear your good clothes or put on an apron. To get blackberry stains out of clothing, spread out the garment over the sink and pour boiling water directly on the stain. This will only work on straight unsugared blackberry juice. You can also try Oxy-clean.

An infusion is a normal tea. Boil water and then steep the herb in it for up to ten minutes.

To make a decoction, which is stronger, simmer in water and strain. Roots are often decocted rather than infused.

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