Bramble or Blackberry
by Sarah Head
David Attenborough once called bramble the most efficient and aggressive coloniser of any free space. The perennial bush produces biennial stems which arch or trail along the ground bearing large thorns to deter predators. Blackberries are produced from the second year stem and have been eaten by animals and humans for thousands of years.
Many people consider brambles to be vicious and unforgiving. I thought the same until the autumn of 2007 when I began using different parts of the bramble bush medicinally. I’ve known for some time that bramble leaves could help stomach upsets, but apart from the making infusions with leaves or blackberries and various other herbs, I’ve never paid the plant itself much heed.
||Joyce Wardwell’s book, “The Herbal Home Remedy Book: Simple Recipes for Tinctures, Teas, Salves, Wines and Syrups” gave me the confidence to get to know bramble at a deeper level. She has a recipe for bramble root vinegar, which is a well-known American home recipe for diarrhoea. I also noticed other people recommending the vinegar for Irritable Bowel Syndrome flare ups when immediate relief from the pain was described.
It was a privilege handling the spring roots of bramble. You could see the old, hard wood of the previous year and new, red-tinged shoots of new growth. It gave me a totally new perspective on spring and on this plant. It was a wonderful experience sitting on a warm patio in the sunshine stroking the velvet softness of new leaves and combing my fingers through the root hairs before I scrubbed them.
A use for Blackberry Flower Essence can be found in “Flower Essence Repertory” by Patricia Kaminsky. She says, “Blackberry Flower Essence may help to translate goals and intentions into action by helping the person who cannot make a viable connection with the will. The soul has many lofty visions and desires but is unable to translate these into concrete manifestations. Such persons are often quite perplexed about the gap between their aims and what they actually accomplish. They give much consideration to their intentions, but lack the ability to organize these thoughts into specific priorities, or to manifest and execute such goals.
Bramble Root Vinegar
Dig up at least six bramble roots. Cut the new leaves from any briars before discarding. Remove excess soil from roots then scrub in cold water until all soil is removed. Rinse roots in fresh water and chop into small, 1 inch pieces with secuteurs. Place bramble leaves in a large glass jar (2lbs) and snip with long scissors. Add the root pieces and cover with cider vinegar. Poke well with a chopstick to remove air bubbles and fill the jar again so no part of the root or leaf is exposed to the air. Egg shells can be added if you want extra mineral content. Label and date.
Place in a warm, dark place for three weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain off all the roots and leaves, squeezing leaves to remove excess vinegar. Strain the vinegar again through a fine sieve or kitchen paper to remove any soil. Pour into clean bottle with screw top lid. Label and date.
Use in salad dressings, when making stock to extract minerals from bones or with honey and boiling water to make a soothing drink.
Blackberry Flower Essence
When blackberry flowers emerge, a flower remedy can be made from them. All you need is a clean glass bowl, jam jar or drinking glass, enough flowers to cover the top and spring or purified water. Fill the bowl with water and sprinkle the flowers on the surface of the water so it is entirely covered. Leave the bowl outside in sunshine for three hours. Remove the flowers with something other than metal or your hand e.g. a stick and pour 50ml of fluid into a clean dark bottle. Add 50 ml of brandy. Label the bottle and date. This recipe comes originally from Non Shaw’s, “Bach Flower Remedies : A Step-by-Step Guide”.
“Such persons often have a great deal of light around the head, which does not radiate and circulate throughout the body. The blood is often sluggish, as is the entire lower metabolism. As the light comes more into the limbs, the soul feels greater inner power to take real action in the world and to translate what is spiritual into actual change in the world. Blackberry flower essence bestows this radiant, awakened light to the will-life of the human soul.”
As summer moves into autumn, blackberry flowers mature into drupes and produce the familiar blackberry. Everyone has their own favourite recipe for bramble jelly or jam or blackberry and apple pie. Blackberries are an ancient remedy for combatting diarrhoea and dysentery. I learned my home nursing from my mother. She taught me to starve anyone with a tummy bug for 24 hours and then gradually introduce dry and easily digested food whilst offering suitable fluids throughout to keep the sufferer hydrated. I know that if the symptoms don’t improve after three days to seek medical advice (earlier with young children).
Reading the experiences of people who have used herbs to manage loose stools, they have found whole blackberries shaken with powdered cinnamon helpful. The eclectic American herbalist, Ellingwood used to offer a blackberry cordial, made in a similar fashion to elderberry cordial, as a drink.
If you are looking for some thing to help improve access to vitamin C either for yourself and your family, a tasty syrup can be made from blackberries and rosehips.
Wash the blackberries and rosehips (depending on whether you live in the town or the country). Place in a heavy bottomed saucepan and cover with water. Simmer over a low heat for half an hour. Mash the blackberries and rosehips to a pulp with a potato masher and cook on the lowest heat for another 15-30 minutes. Strain the liquid through a plastic sieve and measure the volume. Wash out the saucepan. Return the liquid to the pan together with a lb of runny honey for every pint of liquid. Heat gently until honey is dissolved. Add juice of a lemon.
Blackberry and Rosehip Syrup
Small bowl of blackberries and rosehips (1/2lb of each)
1 inch of fresh ginger root peeled and chopped (or you could grate it whole)
3/4 whole nutmeg grated
1 cinnamon stick broken up
Juice of a lemon
Alcohol of your choice (brandy, sherry, a good whiskey, vodka etc)
This can now be poured into clean, sterile bottles and sealed and kept in the fridge to use with children and anyone who doesn't like/can't have alcohol. To preserve the syrup without keeping in a fridge (but in a cold place) add alcohol to taste. Using 1/4pint alcohol to every pint of original liquid should be an adequate preservative.
From this short article it can be seen that bramble is another useful hedgerow herb we can use for difficult situations if we cultivate its acquaintance rather than engage in a continuing battle!