As my first hedgerow fruit I have chosen the resilient, versatile and very abundant bramble, also known as blackberry. Most people have picked brambles and carried heavy bags or baskets home with purple hands. In pies and crumble the fruit may seem overly seed filled but cooked and sieved they make the perfect ingredient for cordials and jelly’s. As one of the earliest hedgerow fruits to ripen they are usually the first I make jam from, brambles are low in pectin so I pair them with windfall apple.
Bramble & Windfall Apple Jelly
1kg of freshly picked and washed brambles
300g roughly chopped windfall apples, with the pips removed (leave the skin on)
800g white sugar
2 -3 pints of water
Add fruit and water to the pan and simmer for at least 20 minutes, mashing the contents to release the juices. When the fruit has broken down strain the contents of the pan through a sieve and a piece of muslin. Then return the juice to a clean pan and add the sugar then boil for at least 30 minutes. Test the setting point by dropping drips onto a plate, this can take an hour depending on the fruit. When the drips stop running/dribbling you have found the setting point. Then pour into sterilised jars, putting a wax disc over the top while the mixture cools. When the jelly has cooled label, screw on the lid and store in a cool, dry, dark cupboard.
Note: when washing the brambles, leave in a bowl of water with a pinch of salt for 30 minutes to kill any bugs or grubs.
The fruit is very high in vitamins C and K plus folic acid, iron, potassium, manganese, zinc and powerful antioxidants. However the leaves have benefits too. They are very high in tannin which means they are strongly astringent and this makes them useful in the treatment of diarrhoea as well as serious stomach upsets. The leaves made into a tea are also considered very good as a gargle for bleeding gums, mouth ulcers and sore throats and was once thought the ideal cure for tonsillitis. The tea, particularly made from young leaves in spring, is an ancient tonic thought beneficial for cleansing the system of winter toxins. In times of hardship the dried leaves were also used as a tea leaf substitute.
The leaves are equally healing when made into an oil or salve, to soothe bumps, bruises and sprains. It is also thought helpful in the treatment of scalds, burns and even on varicose veins and haemorrhoids.
Bramble Leaf Salve
About 15 - 20 bramble leaves freshly picked and thoroughly washed– pat dry with a tea towel to stop oil spitting during preparation.
1 pint of cheap olive oil
¾ bar of bees wax
Heat the olive oil in a pan until you hear it bubble, take the fresh leaves and drop them into the hot oil, allow to cook for a few minutes then remove from the heat. Do not allow it to burn, the burnt odour will spoil it. Leave the mixture to sit for an hour then strain a sieve and some muslin into a bowl. Throw the drained herbs away (or on the compost), and wash the pan. Return the drained oil back to the clean pan and reheat. Drop three quarters of a bar of beeswax into the oil and allow it to melt. As soon as it has disappeared remove from the heat and pour into sterilised jars. Once cooled label, name and date, then store in a cool dark cupboard. If stored correctly this will last more than a year.
In ancient folk custom a sickly child was passed through a bramble arch nine times by adults reciting ‘In bramble, out cough, here I leave the whooping cough’. A possibly more constructive remedy was a cough syrup made from the bramble fruit, leaves and honey.
The root of the bramble has been used as medicine for severe stomach bugs and as a stronger version of the above salve. However it possesses far more powerful astringent qualities and I would not advise using it medicinally without the advice of a Herbalist.
In addition, in the spring the inner part of the stem is edible and is similar to a crunchy vegetable. It is probably a swine to peel the outer prickly skin but I am told it is delicious steamed or added to stews and stir frys. The stems become sinewy as they mature and these were once used to form beehives and to bind the thatch to roofs. Even the flower is believed to be beneficial as a Bach flower remedy, used to help the recipient carry through ideas into action and provide energy and inspiration to overcome inertia.
I had no idea until recently that so much of the bramble plant was useful in such a variety of ways. However I have always been aware of the old wives tale that brambles picked in October are unwholesome and should not be consumed. It appears that there is some logic to this, I have discovered that after the first frost a grey mould called botrytis cinerea begins to form on some of the fruit which can cause illness in some people. Other than this, whilst researching the article I have begun to see the bramble in a completely different light.
With such a versatile wild plant it seems wasteful not to utilise this abundant hedgerow harvest, remembering of course to leave some fruit for others, most importantly as food for the birds.
Happy Hunting, Claire Fleetneedle
These are some of my personal experiences using Brambles, combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate, in the treatment of specific conditions it is best to consult with an herbalist or your GP. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant.
LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.