Thursday, 16 April 2015

What to do with Bramble?

Brambles (Rubus fruticosus) grow everywhere. David Attenborough once called them 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 I began using different parts of the bush medicinally. Now I count it a useful resource available all year round. It’s astringent properties are often ignored by herbalists in favour of its domesticated cousin, raspberry, (Rubus idaeus) but it has many similar properties and is free!

Bramble foraging begins in winter, when the roots can be harvested for vinegar along with general woodland, hedgerow, field or garden clearing. It is a useful remedy for diarrhoea and has been known to give relief from the pain of IBS flare-ups. I’ve used it to calm my digestive system down when faced with a stressful day which began with a long car journey, especially when time was tight and did not allow frequent comfort stops.

Bramble 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. These will disappear over time as they are dissolved by the vinegar. Label and date the jar.

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 the bottle.

Use in salad dressings, when making stock to extract minerals from bones or with honey and boiling water to make a soothing drink. If taking medicinally, add 1tsp of vinegar to a small amount of water (I usually add 1-2 tsps. to a shot glass full of water) and sip.

Brambles in spring
It can be a privilege handling the spring roots of bramble. You see the old, hard wood of the previous year and new, red-tinged shoots. It provides a totally new perspective on spring and on this plant. It can be a wonderful experience sitting on a warm patio in the sunshine stroking the velvet softness of new leaves and combing through the root hairs with your fingers prior to scrubbing.

If you want to make a different vinegar, add half roots and half newly emerging shoots to your jar.

Bramble shoots, seen before the leaves fully emerge can be harvested and either eaten raw or lightly sautéed in butter to make a delightful addition to a foraged meal. They have their own unique flavour – a mixture of “green” and nutty – which is both unexpected and very pleasant. Don’t try to eat fully formed leaves as they have barbs on the underside.

Both the leaves and the insides of brambles with the thorns and hard exterior removed can be made into a stomach calming tea which is particularly helpful for children.

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. 

Blackberry Flower Essence helps to translate goals and intentions into action by connecting someone more effectively with their will. The soul has many lofty visions and desires but may be unable to manifest what needs to be achieved. Such people 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.

On an energetic level, such people 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 helps to chanel 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. Not every black berry is the same as there are over three hundred varieties of both blackberry and dewberry, several of which can co-exist and hybridise in the same field.

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.

If symptoms don’t improve after three days, seek medical advice (earlier with young children). Whole blackberries shaken with powdered cinnamon can be helpful in managing loose stools. 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.

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
4 cloves
runny honey
Juice of a lemon
alcohol of your choice (brandy, sherry, a good whiskey, vodka etc)

Wash the blackberries and rosehips. 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. 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.

You can make jams, jellies and pies with blackberries on their own, but the flavour is very strong. Blackberries reduce the amount of sugar/sweetening you need to add to apples and makes a better flavour combination and texture. If you are cooking for anyone with crumbling or sensitive teeth it is better to sieve the blackberries before adding to any cooking.

Blackberry and apple puree
Peel, core and slice 2-3 large cooking apples and add to a saucepan together with 1-2 large handfuls of washed blackberries. Add sugar and a dash of water (put saucepan under cold tap for one second) then heat the saucepan gently with stirring and simmer until the apples are soft. Sieve the mixture to remove all pips and serve as a fruit fool (by adding ½ pint cold puree to ½ pint cold thick custard to ½ pint double cream), with natural yoghurt, cream or custard. The puree freezes well.

Blackberry and apple pie
Fill the bottom of a pie dish with peeled, cored and sliced cooking apples and blackberries in the ratio of 2/3:1/3. Sprinkle sugar over the top and a small amount of water. Put a pie centre in the middle of the dish. Make approximately 4oz of shortcrust pastry (4ozs flour, 1oz vegetable fat or lard plus 1oz margarine or butter). Roll out the pastry. Cut a ½” strip of pastry to sit on the top of the pie dish edge then brush this with milk. Lift the remainder of the pastry to cover the pie dish and crimp the edges together with the strip of lining. Brush the top of the pie with egg wash and cook in a medium oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Blackberry and apple crumble
Peel, core and slice 2-3 large cooking apples and place in the bottom of a pie dish together with 1-2 good handfuls of washed blackberries. Sprinkle with sugar and add a small dash of water into the bottom of the dish. Make the crumble topping by rubbing together 4 ozs. flour with 2 ozs. of margarine or butter until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add 2 tblsps sugar and mix well. Pour the crumble over the fruit, knocking the edges of the pie dish carefully with your palm to ensure the crumble is evenly spread. Do not push the crumble mixture down firmly with your hand or a spoon. Cook in a medium oven for 15-20 minutes until done.

Blackberry and apple jam
4 lbs blackberries
1/2pt water
1.5lbs cooking/sour apples (prepared weight)
6lbs sugar
Pick over and wash the blackberries, place in a pan with 1/4pt water and simmer slowly until soft. Peel, core and slice apples and add the remaining 1/4pt water. Simmer slowly until soft and make into a pulp with a spoon or potato masher. Add the blackberries and sugar, bring to the boil and boil rapidly, stirring frequently until a setting point is reached. Pour into sterilised jars and cover. (Makes about 10lbs jam.)

Blackberry and apple jelly
4lb blackberries
2lbs cooking or crab apples
2pts water
Wash the blackberries. Wash and cut up the apples without peeling or coring. Put the fruit in the pan with the water and cook for about 1 hour until the fruit is really soft and turned to pulp. Strain through a jelly cloth overnight. Measure the extract and return it to the pan with 1lb sugar to every 1 pint liquid. Heat gently and stir until all the sugar is dissolved then boil rapidly until the setting point is reached. Remove any scum with a slotted spoon before pouring into small, sterilised jars and seal.


rose AKA Walk in the Woods - she/her said...

Wonderful post! I'm dazzled at how it's never occurred to me to make a flower essence with these blooms. I suppose I tend to focus on the roots ... to help manage its vivacious wildness! So - thank you for that inspiration!

Barbara said...

Thank you Sarah, I love Bramble! Flower esences hadn't occurred to me either, will give that a go.

In the Inner Hebrides, the leaves are just beginning to shoot - will definitely try frying them with butter, sounds delish.

Am particularly interested in the energetic uses you describe; from my own shamanic practise I find that Bramble is good for 'grounding', uniting the masculine, conceptual side of our nature with the practical, earthy feminine side.

Special shout out for Bramble vodka! Can be made with frozen berries with no dip in quality of the finished article.

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