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The Common Bramble { past and present medicinal uses}

Updated on August 9, 2015

Beautiful tempting berries


Illustration of Bramble flowers

Familiar wild flowers 1887
Familiar wild flowers 1887

Ode to the bramble

" The fruit full well the school boy knows,

Wild bramble of the brake,

So put forth thy small white rose.

I love it for it s sake;

Though woodbines {Honeysuckle} flaunt, and roses blow,

O'er all the fragrant bowers.

Though need'st not be ashamed to show

Thy satin-threaded flowers;

For dull the eye-the heart as dull

That cannot feel how fair'

Amid all beauty beautiful,

Thy tender blossoms are"



The common bramble or blackberry {usually the latter name is applied when the shrub is in fruit} belongs to the Roseaceae {rose} family of plants which contains some of our best known cultivated plants such as the cherry, the plum and apple trees.

This is probably the best known and certainly one of the most recognized to grow in our country {and many many others},and is probably the first wild fruit that we eat as a child. Countless numbers of people harvest them from the countryside during August and September. This harvesting is almost a ritual for the majority . The generic name of Rubus derives from the Latin rubra or the Celtic rud,both meaning red. The specific name of fruticosus does not, as one might assume, allude to the fruits but means shrub or bush-like

Here we look at the bramble and its past and present medicinal and other uses, which will include historical observations and notes from past herbalists and physicians. As always we commence with a description of the subject under review.

Bramble blossom

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license originally posted on Flickr.
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license originally posted on Flickr. | Source

Description of the bramble

Certain features,of course,present themselves,and enable anyone with the least knowledge of plants,to recognize the bramble. However, you may be surprised to know that there are many species and varieties known to the botanist. { 400 + in the UK alone}. The exact number has been debated for many many years,however, they are difficult to tell apart,unless you are very knowledgeable on the subject. As far as the layman is concerned a blackberry is a blackberry is a blackberry.

The stems produced by the bramble are very long and sometimes up to an inch in diameter,they are furrowed and angular and some often have a purple tinge. The prickles grow upon the stem and also on the leaf stalks are strong and sharp and somewhat hooked.

The foliage consists of five stalked,acute,serrated leaflets, varying in form but usually obovate with edges and point curved downwards. They are smooth, dark green above, downy and white beneath. There are two stipules at the base of the leaf.

The species Rubus fruticosus does not produce suckers and its shrubby stems are more woody and persistent,covered with stiff ,sharp, bristles,gland tipped hairs and strong spines.With the aid of these spines it has become a 'climbing ' ,clambering between the loose branches of other bushes and hedgerow trees. It is quite a common thing for the bramble stem to grow so long that its own weight bends it over and forms an arc to the ground. The tips then root and send up new stems.In this way it soon rapidly occupies the ground.

The flowers are arranged in long narrow panicles.The calyx {sepals etc} consist of five,short,, reflexed segments. The petals are obovate,spreading,delicate,somewhat crumpled, of a light pink colour sometimes white.The stamens are numerous, inserted on the calyx with slender filaments,shorter than the petals.The anthers are rounded,compressed and two-lobed.

The flower bears honey and are much visited by bees and butterflies, as well as by flies and small pollen stealing beetles. Studies have revealed that over a hundred insects from various orders visit the bramble blossom for honey or pollen. They flower from July until August.

The familiar fruit is almost round and of a black purplish colour,composed of numerous ,close,juicy drupes,placed upon a spongy receptacle. They ripen from September.

Ripening fruits | Source

Past medicinal { and other ] uses and observations.

Brambles in some cases prove injurious to hedges by climbing about more valuable plants and hindering their growth. On the other hand they protect more delicate shrubs and herbs and shelter them from rough winds.Badgers are said to be fond of the fruits as are small rodents particularly woodmice and silkworms feed on the foliage.

The older bramble shoots are very persistent and tough and they were once used in basket making and a type of wicker basket which were utilized as bee hives. The bramble has many uses today but even more so in the past.For example they were used to form hedges.The shoots being very tough were employed by thatchers for binding their roofs,and by straw hive and mat makers. The well known fruit was a mainstay ingredient for pies and puddings by the cottager.

The berries eaten the moment they are ripe are cooling and astringent,but a little after they are ripe according to 'Louden's Encyclopedia of Plants page 452, are disagreeably flavoured or putrid. Ray,mentions that a good and pleasant wine has been made from the juice,which possesses considerable strength and a pleasant flavour. Some of the Muscadine wines of France were coloured by the fruits

The physicians in days gone by regarded the bramble as being very astringent and employed it against all kinds of haemorrhages whether from the uterus, the lungs,the nose or any other part of the body. For this purpose the leaves were gathered in the spring, and dried, a good handful was infused in a quart of boiling water, and the infusion was ordered to be drunk freely.

The bruised leaves were applied to gangreous ulcers and Ettmuller recommended a decoction of the young leaves in wine to be applied to certain cutaneous {of or affecting the skin} affections. An old writer states " the most dangerous floodings will yield to this remedy, and the decoction of the leaves, when every other remedy has failed. They form an excellent gargle for sore throats, especially where there is ulceration"

The ancients held the notion that both flowers and fruit of the bramble were efficacious against the bite of serpents, and that the young shoots eaten as a salad, served to fasten loosened teeth was an old belief in England. Many superstitions in days gone by had the bramble as a healing plant by association. As for an example it was believed that a child could be cured of ruptures and hernias if they were passed through a looped bramble. At one time it was believed berries could drive away snakes, and, that if you dreamed of going through a bramble thicket or a place covered with bramble bad luck was sure to befall you.

The above information and observations are for historical interest only and not meant as a guide to self medication.

Blackberry pie.


Modern day uses

Bramble contains anti-inflammatory,anti-microbial and antioxident properties. It is traditionally used in the treatment of wounds,dysentry,against the runs,haemorrhoides and cystitis. The juice is recommended in ansemia ,poor circulation, high blood pressure,persistent coughs and lossof appetite.

They are extremely rich in vitamin E, which make them of use in the treatment {and prevention} of heart and circulatory problems. They also contain vitamin C which aid their antioxident proerties. The high amount of potassium help to lower high blood pressure. Research as shown that the phytochemicals the plant contains may prevent premature ageing of the skin and are a boost to the immune system.

If you are taking conventional medicine for any of the above complaints check with your doctor before taking additional drugs. If you are taking a herb for the first time just try a little first, to test your body tolerance.

Blackberry, for tea, can be purchased in teabag form,along with other products containing blackberry, from health shops and drug stores.

Cooking Rubus fructicosus for preserves.


Blackberry preserve


For the Forager

This common prickly shrub produces an abundant source of fruit,very familiar to most people. They are harvested for jams, pies and crumbles In days gone by it was traditionally used as a breakfast drink in the UK. The tea was prepared from the leaves and reputedly had the added bonus of being a blood cleanser,

The shoots in spring may be collected, at his time the soft prickles can be rubbed or easily cut off. The soft centre of the shoot s may then be eaten raw,either on its own or in salads. A bramble vinegar can be produced for use as a salad dressing or as a hot water drink for colds.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, It is strange how many people are taken back to their childhood {including myself} when this shrub is mentioned. Thank you for your visit and for leaving your comments, both of which are appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I recall the wild blackberry(and raspberry) well. As a child, I picked many both for my mother and to sell at the local campground. We enjoyed numerous pies and jams. After picking the berries, though, we had black fingertips for many days!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika welcome back after your break,thank you for your kind comments I hope you enjoy your fist harvest of blackberries. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      We planted the exact kind of blackberries and now it has lovely flowers. I did not know it was also called Bramble. A very interesting and well-informed hub. I am sure I would enjoy the first fruit beared, you always have such great and creative hubs voted up, useful, interesting.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Thank you for your visit,thankfully we do not have the snake problem over here,just the juicy berries. Best wishes to you.


      Hi, thank you for your kind comments and I bet the wine tastes fantastic. Cheers,and best wishes to you.

    • RTalloni profile image


      4 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for this look at blackberries. We were excited to find that birds have given us the makings of a bramble in a back corner of our property and we intend to give it plenty of room to grow, but I never enter a bramble before poking a walking stick into it so snakes will go their own way first!

    • mgeorge1050 profile image


      4 years ago from West Georgia

      I have tons of blackberries around my house, and I make a batch of wine from them each year. They are also quite beautiful when they are in full bloom. Great article.


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