In times past, blackberries were deliberately used as hedging plants, and their prickles make them a very good intruder deterrent if you have an open boundary. They have also been used in herbal medicine. Chewing blackberry leaves was said to soothe a toothache, and frozen blackberries are great for soothing a sore throat or a tickly cough.
Blackberries, or brambles, are true pioneer plants. They’re tough and vigorous, and the prickles on their stems face backwards – making it easy for them to get a grip on other plants and obstacles and scramble over them. For much of the year their arching stems will root wherever they touch the ground, claiming new territory and rapidly creating thickets. This astonishing time-lapse video from David Attenborough’s Private Life of Plants shows just how effectively that works:
Unless you’re currently trying to stop them taking over your garden, you have to admire their tenacity – and they’re very useful plants to have around. Blackberries provide a delicious late summer harvest, and can be eaten fresh (usually straight off the bush!), made into pies or preserved as jam or wine for the winter. For more culinary inspiration, have a look at a ramble about the bramble.
Human pickers have to be quick off the mark to beat the birds, who also love the fruit. Late in the blackberry season the berries have little flavour, and should be left to feed wildlife. Bramble thickets provide a lovely habitat, with lots of thorn-protected nooks and crannies for small mammals and birds to live in. They’re also beautiful, with their arching stems and pretty flowers. And a few cut stems strewn across newly dug beds will certainly discourage neighborhood cats from using your garden as a litter box!
If you really want to remove blackberries from your garden, then you’ll have to dig out the roots. To keep them under control, vigilance is necessary. You’ll have to pull up those rooting stems before they get too established – or cut them back before they have a chance to root.