How To Pick Wild Blackberries - A Guide to Harvesting
On a recent trip to the supermarket, I was browsing the produce section and couldn't help but notice the blackberries.
They were sad-looking things, a little bit mushy and close to spoiling -- and being sold for $5 for a tiny little package. And people were buying them.
But at the edge of the parking lot outside, there were the most magnificent blackberry bushes growing wild, where ten minutes of picking could net far more than that meager handful of berries - and they were fresher, sweeter, and juicer as well.
And yet, nobody was picking them.
When I've been out collecting berries, myself, I've always been surprised by the number of people who stop to see what I'm doing, most of whom never even knew what the bushes were, much less that they could be collected.
So if you're new to berry-picking, let me help you get started!
What you will need:
- Long-sleeved shirt
- Jeans, or other thick pants
- Small bucket or plastic milk jug with the top cut off
- Water bottle
Finding A Place To Pick
Blackberries are a water-loving plant, and will often be found near ponds, rivers, creeks or roadside drainage ditches.
A good place to start looking is at your local park, or along less-used roads with plenty of open space or vacant lots.
Places to avoid:
- Near busy roadways. Aside from the danger from traffic, the pollutants will stick to the berries
- Anywhere it is forbidden - some parks do not allow it, so ask first
- Private property without permission
- Near any site with a significant amount of pollution
Identification: Making Sure You Have The Right Plant
Proper identification is key with any wildcrafted or foraged food. There are poisonous plants out there, and some of them can make you very sick or even kill you if you eat one by mistake. So always be absolutely certain before you eat it!
Features to look for:
- Blackberries usually create thick, dense, impassable thickets
- Lots and lots of sharp thorns
- Three to five leaflets in every leaf, with thorns on the bottoms of the leaf veins
- The berries are aggregate fruits -- meaning they look like they've been put together from lots of tiny little round balls, rather than being one smooth fruit
Getting Ready To Harvest
Finding the right container is important. It's easy to slip and spill your entire harvest into the dirt if you're using something that's hard to keep hold of.
My preferred berry-picking equipment is a large plastic milk jug with just the top cut off, leaving the handle intact. It can be easily grasped, or even tied to a belt for extra security.
If you can't get one, a small bucket with a handle is next best.
What else will you need?
- Thick pants and long-sleeved shirts. Those thorns hurt, and you want all the protection you can get! [Because of this, I recommend berrying in the early morning before the day gets hot, or your outfit may get uncomfortable]
- Good boots. Thorns in the feet are quite unpleasant.
- Water. Blackberries are ripe in the hottest part of summer, and it's easy to overheat or become dehydrated.
Choosing The Best Berries
Look for the darkest-colored berries you can find. If they still have red or green parts, they aren't ripe yet.
Give the berry a gentle tug. If it doesn't come off easily, leave it be and look for another one -- when they're fully ripe and sweet, they almost fall off right into your hand. If you have to pull hard to get it loose, it'll be sour.
Avoid the shriveled, shrunken-looking berries, or berries that mush in your fingers. These ones are overripe, and probably beginning to spoil.
You want the perfect balance where the berries are still large, plump, and juicy, but feel soft. These are the ones that make the whole thing worthwhile!
So you've picked them....now what?
Finding things to do with the berries is always the best part. You can:
- Put them on top of vanilla ice cream
- Make blackberry pie
- Make blackberry cobbler
- Freeze them and add them to fruit smoothies
- Make blackberry juice
- Make a sauce for pork
- Add them to fruit salads
- Throw them into a bowl of Greek yogurt for a low-calorie breakfast
- Bake Sweet Blackberry Biscuits
If you have anything to add to this list, post a comment below!