There are many subspecies of this plant, but all work equally well for all magical and healing applications, though taste and texture vary.
Blackberries are part of the rose family and have the characteristic flowers, leaves, and thorns similar to those found on wild rose bushes. These shrubs have a rather sprawling habit and tend to take over wherever they can get a foothold with arching, thorny branches that catch on clothing and hair and scratch tender skin. All through the summer, you can see the berries in various stages of ripeness and flowers in all stages of blooming on this plant, making it somewhat unique. In most common species, the flowers are white and the berries proceed from white, to red to purpley-black ripeness. The berries have a composite appearance and many tiny seeds, like raspberries or mulberries.
Leaves are ovate, double-serrate and pinnate with 3-5 leaflets. Flowers have five petals and the canes are studded with curved prickles.
History and Folklore
According to some English folklore, passing under the archway formed by a bramble branch will cure (or prevent) all manner of afflictions, including hernia, ruptures, pimples, and boils. This has also been used as a remedy for “downer” cows. (I have not found a description of this last healing rite, but I suspect it involves passing the archway over the cow rather than dragging a cow under it.)
Celtic lore said that blackberries were fae fruit, and thus bad luck for people to eat, but blackberry wine was somehow still okay. Mythology relating both Christ and the Devil to blackberries also made them taboo eating.
According to some Christian lore, Christ’s crown of thorns was made of brambles, and thus the berries were turned from red to black.
Another tale says that Lucifer landed in brambles when he was cast down from heaven and thus he cursed them so that they would be ugly. It is said that he hates them so much, he stomps on them on Michealmas Day and after that, it’s unlucky to harvest them. Other folklore says this happens on Halloween.
Even so, blackberries were considered protective against earthbound spirits and vampires. If planted near a home, a vampire couldn’t enter because he would obsessively count the berries and forget what he was about.
Blackberries grow everywhere, and especially prefer dry, sandy soil in hedges or at the forest’s edge. It can be cultivated by seed, by softwood cuttings in the early summer, by leaf bud cuttings in the late summer, or by division in the early spring or autumn. It needs well-drained soil in partial shade. This plant is an annual and will not produce fruit until the second year. Blackberries are susceptible to cane blight, crown gall, aphids, and viral diseases. They are excellent additions to faerie and wildlife gardens as they provide good shelter. They attract birds, including the brown thrasher, catbirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, and vireos. Some varieties of blackberry even require their seeds to be passed through a bird’s digestive system to germinate, which is why blackberry brambles are so frequently found beneath power lines and telephone wires. They are also popular with swallowtail butterflies.
Harvesting & Storage
Berries should be harvested as soon as they ripen (they turn black). Overripe berries should be discarded and under-ripe berries should not be eaten. Berries can be used fresh, dried, or preserved in a jelly, jam, wine, or any number of tasty treats.
Leaves should be harvested before or during flowering and laid to dry in the usual manner.
Roots can be dug in the spring and fall. After the berries have been harvested in the second year is the best time to do this. They should be dried quickly, in an oven or under a hot sun.
Blackberry plant parts for use in protective magic should be gathered during the waning moon.
Different parts of the blackberry plant have different correspondences. The thorny branches are ruled by Aries and fire and are used for protection. Blackberry vines can be woven into protective wreaths, especially in combination with Rowan and Ivy and the thorns and leaves can also be added to mojo bags and other preparations for general household protection and prosperity.
Blackberry leaves are ruled by the planet Venus, the astrological sign Scorpio, and the element of water, and are used for many purposes related to female fertility. The tea from the leaf is also said to work as a mild aphrodisiac.
A healing spell that invokes Brigid makes use of blackberry leaves. Dip nine leaves in a natural water source and lay them on a burn or a red inflamed area. Say to each leaf as you lay them on the wound, “Three ladies came from the East, One with fire and two with frost, Out with fire, in with frost!”
The berries themselves are feminine in nature and ruled by the element of earth. They represent an abundant harvest and can be used in spells and magical cooking for prosperity. Blackberries are traditionally baked into pies to celebrate First Harvest festivals, such as Lughnassadh and Lammas.
In dream symbology, blackberries represent loss, sorrow, and remorse. If you are pricked in your dream, your enemies will conspire with your friends against you. If they draw blood, then you will get the raw end of a deal.
A permanent black dye can be made using blackberry leaves and lye. The young shoots produce light gray using alum mordant. The root produces orange dye. The canes produce reddish tan and the berries bluish gray.
Leaves can be added to a bath tea to freshen the skin in the winter. They are astringent.
Dried berries can be added to potpourri.
Blackberry is a cooling herb.
Fresh leaves, bruised can be applied to give some relief to burns, especially from steam or boiling water and is also useful for hemorrhoids, skin ulcers, and eczema. A decoction used as a mouth rinse is also good for sore throats.
The fruit is especially good for the liver and kidneys while the leaf acts on the stomach and intestines.
The fruit should be eaten, either fresh, or in jam or wine, by those having trouble with stones or diarrhea. A decoction of the root bark or an infusion of the leaves may also be used. For stones, simmer 1 tbsp of root per cup of water for 20 minutes. Add enough water to return it to one cup, and drink one cup per day, spaced out throughout the day in 1/4 cup intervals.
In the summer when the berries are ripe, make this syrup to help ease winter colds and flu- cover fresh berries with malt vinegar and let them stand for three days. Mash and strain. Add one pound of sugar for each pint of juice that results and bring it all to a boil. Allow it to boil for five minutes, then let cool and seal. Add a teaspoon of this syrup to a cup of water to help keep your feverish little ones hydrated.
The root is used to make an astringent tea to ease diarrhea.
Blackberries are tasty right off the bush or sprinkled over shortbread and smothered in cream, or added to a bowl of cereal. They also make great jams and wines and are delicious in pie alone or in combination with other seasonal fruits.
The dried leaves may be added to herbal tea blends.