Those Darn Blackberries – Where Did They Come From?
Oh, I know you have seen them. Brambles up along driveways, river banks, sides of highways, parks and in the middle of nowhere and somewhere all at the same time. Blackberries. Do we pick them, eat them, or should we now be afraid? And why do they appear to be indestructible? Cut back, they just keep growing. Burn them as part of a slash pile, they just keep coming back, and stronger than ever. Where did they come from, why are they here, and what can we do with them? Let me share a little history adapted from recent issue of quarterly food journal, The Lucky Peach.
Brought to this country from Europe in the 1800s, the Himalayan blackberry (which is a misnomer; they’re actually from Armenia) was cultivated for its edible berries before spreading first throughout the Pacific Northwest, then much of the country. They thrive in any temperate environment and multiply at the drop of the hat; their seeds can stay viable in the soil for years. Stems that touch the soil sprout root buds and continue to grow up to forty feet long, producing a of dense branches dotted with thorns that threaten the understory of the forests, pastures, and roadsides the Himalayan blackberry invades. These thickets can block the sun from reaching the seedlings of native trees like the Pacific Madrona, Douglas fir, and Western white pine.
Goats love to eat blackberry canes, but it’s not as simple as unleashing massive herds upon the West Coast and hoping for the best. The Himalayan blackberry has been classified as a “noxious weed” by the federal government for its rapid spread and perennial traits. The Oregon Department of Agriculture depressingly points out that any measure to control it is doomed to failure unless funded for the long term.
The bad news is that it’s unlikely Himalayan blackberries will ever be dealt with on a large scale. The good news is that seeking out their brambles to harvest berries is a helpful act: every berry eaten is a berry that won’t eventually grown into a new invasive plant.
Now that you know a little more…let me tell you the work to pick a gallon or two of these delicious berries are worth reaching into the prickly bushes in late August and September. Depending on where you are picking them, you may not want to eat the ones waist and below, but if you are off the beaten path a touch, it is worth grabbing any and all berries and filling your freezer bags, baskets, or whatever you have laying around. Blackberries make fantastic cobbler, pie, and of course a very simple-to-make jam.
The boys and I picked several gallons worth this early fall and made a couple of recycled jars worth of freezer jam that was consumed in record fashion. Not sure what to do with the extras? Lay them out on a cookie sheet and freeze them, then they will be hard and maintain their color and individuality where you can then place into a freezer bag and keep for several months until you make want to make that delicious cobbler over the cold winter months.