Anyone growing up in the woodlands of the Ozarks knows how to find wild blackberry patches. When I was a kid, my dad took my little brother and me picking blackberries in the summer. We would pick gallons of the sometimes sweet, sometimes tart berries, then park on the side of the road somewhere and put up a sign to sell them. If we couldn’t sell them all (and we usually didn’t, just due to the volume we had picked,) we would bring home the rest to make blackberry preserves, or cobbler, or to just eat fresh on top of some ice cream. Some of the berries we picked were as fat as a thumb, sweet as honey, and people would ask if they were really wild raspberries. The answer to that question is a definitive “no.”
A neighbor moved in around the time my mom remarried, and they had a small garden out front. I used to ride my bicycle up and down the dirt/gravel roads in the neighborhood, and would often see them out tending to their grow beds. A month or two after they first moved in, they put in a raspberry patch. I liked raspberries even more than blackberries, but we never could find wild ones when we went berry picking. Raspberries have a silvery shiny surface on the underside of their leaves. The fruit also comes off of the bramble vine, with a “hole” where it came off of the little cone shaped base attached to the stem. Blackberries, on the other hand, come directly off of the stem in a tight cluster. There is a little dot where it used to connect to the stem, if you look closely. How anyone could mix the two up was always a mystery to me at that age. Then I learned there are more than just “blackberries” and “raspberries.”
There is a bramble that sprawls along the ground, laying down roots wherever it touches the ground to spread along in a tangled mass. The stem is “hairier” looking than a blackberry cane, but it still has thorns, and it produces berries like its relatives. This is a “dewberry” bramble. We have some in our back yard, and the birds usually get them before we do, so we leave them for the birds to enjoy.
Blackberries, raspberries, and dewberries are the main varieties I’ve run across in my time, but there are some hybrids and crosses of various mixes of the three, as well as “black raspberries” and “thimbleberries.” Some people call black raspberries “thimbleberries” but there is another variety by the same name.
The wonderful thing about all of them is that they are all members of the “rubus” genus. All of them provide very tasty fruit that is in a wide range of sweet to tart, juicy, and delicious. They make great jams, jellies, and preserves, cobblers, and dessert toppings. They freeze well, but I wouldn’t try dehydrating them. The leaves can all be used to make herbal teas, and some of those are medicinal, such as raspberry leaves which are often used for women’s health regarding birth giving activities. The teas are tastey, too.
I plan to plant some black raspberries and “regular” raspberries during one of our perennial planting sessions in the coming year. Since we’ve had blackberries and dewberries popping up in our yard over the years, I know these other rubus relatives will do just fine.