Nature Wisdom

With Pat Tuholske,

Beyond the Thorn… a Bramble Bounty

Humans have a primal connection with the Bramble. For thousands of years, we have harvested Black Raspberries, Gooseberries, Blackberries and Rose Hips for food and medicine. Our ancestors made good use of the thorny hedges to keep out unwanted visitors and ill-natured intruders.

In ancient Europe, creeping under a Bramble bush was a charm against illness of the skin and joints. Brambles were thought to give protection against all evil. They were planted around graves to prevent the dead from rising as ghosts. According to fairy legend, the thorn plant is their home and to cut down a thorn without the fairy’s permission was to bring bad luck.

Native Americans used the Bramble fruit as a remedy for diarrhea, urinary tract infections, sore throat, gout, and venomous bites and stings. The fruits helped the Pilgrims survive their first summer. During the Civil War when troops suffered from dysentery, a truce was called so soldiers could go Berrying. Sailors used to carry Rose Hips on long voyages to prevent scurvy. During World War II Brambles were grown in victory gardens for the medicinal and nutritional value of their fruits.

Black Raspberries, Gooseberries and Black Berries ripen in early Summer. Rose Hips, the fruit of an unplucked Rose, ripen the end of Summer and into Autumn, persisting throughout the winter. Rose Hips are a valuable wild food source when Berries have withered.

Wild Berries and Rose Hips of the Missouri Ozarks are among the best native fruit. They’re common, prolific, delicious, nutritious, and easy to identify. Brambles are one of many overlooked wild foods that permeate our urban, suburban, and rural landscapes. In our valley they all grow in profusion, sheltering rabbit, snake, quail and other small animals. Deer, birds, opossum, raccoons and a multitude of other creatures feed on the Berries and Hips. The plants thrive on their own with little care from us. Their abundance, however, requires constant trimming of the hiking trails, as the Bramble canes seem to grow overnight trying to claim the paths as their own.

The health benefits of these delicious fruits are numerous. They are full of fiber, pectin, manganese, vitamin C, and are an antioxidant, antiviral, and antibacterial. The leaves are highly astringent and used for diarrhea, poison ivy, hemorrhoids, acne, boils and other inflammatory conditions.

To preserve Bramble bounty all year long, we freeze or dry the fruits to eat with cereal, yogurt or to make Winter pies. While the picking is good, we make cobblers and jams. And there is nothing quite like a fresh Berry or Rose Hip straight off the cane! The essence of Sun, Moon, rain, bees, and Earth merge together to create these precious wild fruit.

Often their sharp thorns grab hold of you and won’t let go until they’ve drawn blood. The Bramble’s thorn teaches us to be aware and to slow down. You can’t hurry when you’re picking the wild Berry or Rose Hip. It’s a slow walking meditation as you gently collect the ripest, plumpest fruit and try to avoid tangling with the thorns.
If you don’t have access to land where you can harvest the wild Bramble bounty, they can easily be grown. You can purchase Berry plants and Roses from Stark Brothers Nurseries on line or from your local garden center.

Each morning we head out to do our picking, I am filled with gratitude for these powerful little fruits. Perhaps other wild fruit lovers will learn to foster a greater love for the native Bramble ecosystem and appreciate the plant’s relationship in human affairs. Look past the thorns of these juicy jewels to their gifts of medicine, survival and a bit of Ozark magic.

See Pat Tuholske’s Wild Wreaths, Wheels and TwigCraft woven from Ozark native plants at willowrainherbalgoods.com. Check out her “Nature Chronicles” for musings on the Human-Nature relationship at pattuholske.com.