Blackberries have a characteristic dark color indicating a high amount of antioxidants. Like raspberries, they are not technically a berry but rather an aggregate of individual drupes held by fine hairs. Blackberries have a solid core with a sweet, slightly tart taste.
The plant grows in a bramble, or an impenetrable thicket. They are a member of the Rosaceae family, with over 237 known species worldwide, including dozens native to North America. 1 The plants grow as erect thorny bushes, erect thornless or trailing thornless bushes. Some traditions believe the crown placed on Christ's head during his crucifixion was made of blackberry thorns.
The fruit is generally in season from June until September, depending upon the region and the plant grown. However, once picked, they perish within two to four days. Blackberries grow wild throughout most of Europe and are found wild in the U.S. as well. 2 Prior to ripening, the fruit is red, leading to an old expression, "Blackberries are red when they're green."
Blackberries can easily be added to your backyard or container garden as they are low maintenance. When growing the erect variety, they take up little space, making them perfect for small yards. Your plants can produce berries for up to 20 years when well cared for. 3
How to Grow Healthy Blackberries
Blackberries do well in full sun but can tolerate some shade in warmer climates. Your new plants will do best in soil with good drainage, so avoid heavy clay or sandy areas. In this short video you'll discover additional tips for planting your blackberry plants.
Add organic soil matter to improve aeration and remove any obvious sticks or weed growth. Compost can help amend the soil, which should be between 5.5 and 7 pH for the best results. 4 When blackberries are planted they will not produce berries in the first year. 5 However, they still require a side dressing of fertilizer and consistent water.
Be sure to plant your blackberries far away from wild berries that may carry viruses, spacing semi-erect plants 5 to 6 feet apart and erect plants 3 feet apart. Plants started in a nursery can be transplanted in late fall in warmer climates but should be delayed until early spring in cooler areas.
Blackberries require plenty of watering, especially when fruiting. Use mulch around the root areas to preserve moisture. Be sure the plants receive 1 inch of water each week, whether from your hose or rain.
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Blackberries need pruning to remove the old canes and let new ones take their place. They should also be topped in order to allow the plant to bush and produce more fruit. 6 Erect plants produce canes from the crown and benefit from summer pruning when they are about 4 feet tall. They may need to be pruned several times to avoid the cane to tipping.
The plants can also be tied to a trellis to keep them upright. If you have trailing blackberries, no pruning is necessary to prepare for the winter months. Just add some mulch for winter protection. 7
Erect blackberries can be cut off just above the ground in late winter for the best fruit the next summer. Once the berries start to ripen, they must be picked daily as the fruit matures to a deep black color. The berries will not continue to ripen after being picked.
Harvest during the cooler part of the day and refrigerate the berries as soon as possible. 8 Not fully ripe berries will taste sour and have less than half the anthocyanin found in ripe berries. 9Advertisement
Tame the Wild Blackberry
You might find the blackberry is one of the best and worst fruits you can put in your yard as while they require little maintenance and produce a large yield, they can become invasive when left alone. Thornless varieties are now available for easy picking, but wild blackberries will likely have thorns resulting in a prickly, bloody battle to keep them under control.
If you have wild blackberries, there are a few simple steps you can take to produce better berries that are easier to pick and keep the bushes contained. With a few simple management techniques you can maximize your blackberry population and reduce the potential for snakes during the summer months. 10
Your best wild berries will grow away from the roadside, as those exposed to pollutants from cars may be contaminated with toxins. Before attacking your wild berry bushes, get dressed for the job using thick pants, jacket and heavy gloves unlikely to be ripped by sharp thorns. Use pruning shears or loppers to prune back the tips of young canes in upright varieties 3 to 4 feet. 11
You will recognize young canes as they may be green or reddish brown, while older canes are a dark woody brown. Side dress your blackberries with balanced organic fertilizer over the roots and then blanket the ground with at least 6 inches of organic mulch . You'll also want to mulch the path you use when you harvest your crop to reduce weed overgrowth and hiding places for snakes.
Control the spread of the plants in the early spring by severing sprouts that come up out of your established perimeter. Be sure you also eliminate weeds and mulch over the area. 12 The canes typically die after two years, which provides a great habitat for small critters.
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It's a good idea to prune out these dead canes to minimize the potential your blackberries will acquire disease and to make picking easier the following year. Prune the dead canes to ground level.
Cultivated Blackberries Make for Easier Picking
Some of the cultivated varieties produce larger fruit and may be cold hardy, potentially adding two months to your harvest season in hardiness zones 6 to 9, 13 or make harvesting blackberries possible where they are normally damaged by cold winter weather. Cultivated varieties may also be thornless, making working with the plant and harvesting a lot safer for the gardener.
Extended harvesting, longer growing season and thornless varieties make cultivated plants more enticing if you are adding blackberries to your garden. You can often get plants certified free of viruses at a nursery. Here's a sample list of varieties and their characteristics: 14 , 15 , 16
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Triple Crown — Adapted to grow in hardiness zones 5 to 9, this variety was released in 1996. It is an upright thornless plant, bearing heavily in late summer. Prune it to 6 feet.
Navajo — This variety was cultivated by the University of Arkansas to grow in hardiness zones 6 to 9. The upright canes bear fruit in midsummer and has received high ratings for fruit flavor and plant yield in numerous field trials.
Apache — Also from the University of Arkansas, the plant produces large fruit with high yield. The canes are erect and may be grown without a trellis when topped at 3.5 feet.
Von — This plant produces sweet, medium to large fruit with small seeds and medium acidity. The canes are erect and the plant is more tolerant to wet conditions than other varieties.
Doyle — Popular throughout the Midwest, this variety is adapted to grow in zones 4 to 9 when heavily mulched in the cold seasons. The plant is thornless with trailing canes that do well on a trellis. Regular feeding with organic matter will enhance yields of tart berries that are excellent for making wine.
Prime Jan and Prime Jim — This plant was released in 2005 and adapted to grow in limited zones from 4 to 7 with protection. The plant has thorns and can be mowed and mulched in the late fall through winter for a late summer crop.
Rosborough — Released by Texas A&M University, the plant produces fruit in early summer and adapted to grow in hot, dry climates. While the plant is thick with thorns, the fruit is sweet and firm.
Anthocyanins Lead Blackberry Health Benefits
Blackberries get their dark purple pigmentation from a high level of anthocyanin, a phytonutrient with strong antioxidant properties. 17 Anthocyanin is a subclass of flavonoids, naturally occurring plant compounds in fruits, vegetables and beverages like wine and tea.
Many of the biological effects of flavonoids appear to be related to their ability to modulate cell signaling, exhibiting anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, anticancer and neuroprotective activities through different mechanisms of action. 18
The richest source of anthocyanins is found in blackberries, followed by raspberries , red onions , pomegranates and tomatoes. 19 There is a growing body of research claiming berries may be among the most potent cancer-fighting fruits as they're rich in substances with cancer protective properties such as elegiac acid, lignans, myricetin and cyanidin 3-glucoside. 20
Interest in anthocyanins has grown as their ability to prevent neuronal diseases, cardiovascular illness, inflammation, cancer and other diseases has come to light. Anthocyanins counter oxidants, making them efficient at fighting atherosclerosis as well. 21
In one study, anthocyanins were found to improve cholesterol levels and fight oxidative stress. 22 Others have demonstrated the berries may offer protection against certain forms of cancer. 23 , 24
In herbal medicine, anthocyanins have been revered for their anti-inflammatory, antiviral and anticancer benefits, and their ability to help treat high blood pressure, colds and urinary tract infections.
Benefits of Blackberries Are Tempered by Fructose Content
As with most things, more of a good thing doesn't make it great. Although the health benefits of blackberries go beyond anthocyanins, it also wise to remember the fruit contains fructose.
Most people are familiar with turmeric (scientific name: Curcuma longa1) as a yellow spice that's used in Indian cuisine, and has a peppery, warm and bitter flavor.2 Traditionally called "Indian saffron," turmeric comes from a rhizome with rough brown skin, dull orange flesh3 and an earthy scent said to be more pungent than ginger.4 However, there's more to this vibrant spice than meets the eye.
As you incorporate blackberries into your diet, remember to count those grams of fructose, which may contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance when consumed in excessive quantities. For optimal health, I recommend staying below 25 grams of fructose per day, including fructose from fruits and berries.
That said, there's no shortage of nutrients in this little fruit, as it's packed with vitamins A, C and K, B vitamins, fiber, and the antioxidants zeaxanthin and lutein. The combination of these nutrients offer several health benefits, including supporting: 25 , 26
Blood sugar regulation
Quelling of inflammation
Oral health 27
Whatever you cook, make more of it! Double up meats and veggies and freeze for later in the week.
Incorporate Blackberries in These Recipes
Remember blackberries are best eaten in their natural state to enjoy all their health benefits. Freezing them also preserves the nutrients, even though the texture may change. Frozen berries are easily added to homemade yogurt , smoothies or just as a snack directly from the fridge. For tasty dish, try this nutrient-packed Triple Berry Kale Salad recipe, courtesy of How Sweet Eats. 28
Triple Berry Kale Salad
- 1 head of curly kale, leaves removed from stem and torn
- 1 cup fresh tart cherries, pitted and sliced
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- 1 cup fresh blackberries
- 1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
- 1 avocado, chopped
- 2/3 cup chopped toasted almonds
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
For the Strawberry Vinaigrette
- 3/4 cup sliced fresh strawberries
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch pepper
- 1 pinch cinnamon
- To make the vinaigrette dressing, combine all ingredients together in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
- Place kale in a large bowl and add about 1/4 cup of the strawberry vinaigrette.
- Massage and rub dressing into kale with your hands, then let the kale sit for five to 10 minutes.
- Add in salt, pepper, cherries, berries and avocado, then add a few more tablespoons of dressing and toss.
- Finish by topping with chopped almonds.
- This recipe makes four servings.