One of my favorite items to forage is wild black raspberries. You need to work for these tidbits. Their thorns can seem impenetrable and the biting insects unsavory inhabitants of their brambles, but, oh, the taste of those berries is worth it!
Native to eastern North America, black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) are not to be confused with blackberries. The black raspberries are just that, raspberries with a deep purple colour when ripe rather than the red of typical raspberries. While it shares the deep purple with ripe blackberries, the black raspberry fruits are smaller (± 1/4 in.) and plucked off the stem so they have a hollow core. Blackberries, in contrast, are larger (± 1 in.) and picked with the stem still intact within the core of the fruit. The leaves of black raspberries have a whitish underside and the blackberries have green on both top and bottom. Both plants grow arching, thorny stems that can turn into a thicket of brambles if left alone.
Raspberries are one of the few plants that can grow beneath walnuts trees. First, the canes are shade tolerant and the walnuts cast a fair bit of shade. Second, the juglone produced by walnuts is toxic to many plants, but black raspberries are juglone resistant. In fact, some of the plumpest berries I’ve found were growing beneath walnuts; less competition from other plants, perhaps? If you have a walnut tree and are wondering what to plant beneath it, try black raspberries.
The black raspberry is self-pollinating. A single cane left to itself will produce berries and eventually spread into a thicket of brambles. It does not spread as other raspberries or blackberries do by sending out underground runners. The black raspberry canes instead arch over and wherever they touch the ground they produce new roots. In its first season the cane will not fruit. Some berries will appear in the second year, and more will form from the third year on. Seeds dropped by birds or mammals can germinate where they land.
Around our homestead we have several black raspberry patches where we like to harvest berries. We make it a family affair. During the cooler part of the day, we pull on pants, long-sleeved shirts, and rubber boots to protect ourselves from the thorns and the mosquitoes. Then we each take a basket and head out to pick. The older my children get, the more berries we’re able to harvest; they eat fewer and are able to venture further afield to forage. Typically, our first effort is brought home and promptly consumed, but I do manage at least one more outing and freeze what we collect. During the colder months, we’ll pull out our frozen berries and add them to berry crumbles, pies, or smoothies. They’re also tasty as a sauce for pancakes or waffles.
Rebecca Harrold homesteads and homeschools on a 23-acre property in rural Ontario, where she is engaged with all types of wiser living skills. She believes that restoring the land to its healthy, sustainable state will increase its resilience, and in turn, the resilience of the people who depend upon it. Connect with Rebecca at Harrold Country Home and on Instagram. Read all of Rebecca’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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