As white as Snaw, But Snaw it’s not
As red as Blood, But Blood it’s not
As black as Ink, But ink it’s not
Traditional Riddle from Glencairn (answer a bramble)
There is nothing more ubiquitous as the Blackberry or Bramble. Sméar Dubh or Smearagan in Gaelic, meaning black berry. Dris, druis bramble. The bramble was much valued by the old Highlanders, and where not indigenous was cultivated. The fruit was used for food, the root for dyeing, and an infusion of the leaves was used for medical purposes. Alone, and in combination with the ivy and the rowan, the bramble was placed above the lintel of the byre door to ward away witches and evil spirits. It is spoken of as ‘an druise beannaichte‘–the blessed bramble. It is said that a branch of the bramble was the wand with which Christ hastened the ass when going into Jerusalem, and the rod with which He drove the money-changers from the Temple.
The bramble is mentioned in several proverbs:–
|‘Is fearr an druise na ’n draighionn,
Is fearr an draighionn na ’n donas.
‘Am fear a readhadh ’s an druise domh,
|Better the bramble than the black-thorn,
Better the black-thorn than the devil.
He who would go in the bramble for me,
It was thought every berry had a poisonous worm in the highlands . Its other folk-lore and uses are well-known to those who only have a passing acquaintance with wild berry picking and foraging. It has so many folk names such as black butters, blackbides, bumblekites and scaldberries  that it’s a testament to how well known the plant is. The latin name for Blackberry is Rubus Fructicosis and is a member of the Rose or Rosaceae family. Bramble means impenetrable thicket  and comes from Germanic bram-bezi, whence come also German Brombeere, Dutch Braambes and French framboise. It originated before the year 1000; Middle English; Old English bræmbel, variant of brǣmel, equivalent to brǣm- (cognate with Dutch braam broom). . In fact at one time the flower of the Blackberry was a symbol of beauty to the Gaelic poets, and a well-known love ballad has the name Bláth na Sméar, or ‘Flower of the Blackberry’.
The humble bramble has many a use in herbal treatments.In fact it’s incredibly astringent. Its roots more so than its leaves and is useful in cases of diarrhoea. It was also used in traditional folk medicine to cure coughs and colds but also minor wounds (guess we can attest this now to its astringent properties). The vine can be used to weave just as you would with willow. It was used to secure thatch on roofs and to build skeps (bee homes). These woven basket like structures were usually made from straw or rushes bound together with bramble stems to house our bees. Its berries are rich in Vitamins and minerals and useful for colds and when your feeling under the weather.
Folklore in Scotland attests to the devil or Púca in Scotland coming to spit, place his boot or urinate on the berries (take your pick I guess). Púca’s vengeance happens after Samhuinn, sometimes as early as after the Rood day in September. After this date the berries are no good and are a maggoty mush. The origin of the folk tale perhaps? (Though he is popular these days. Those who follow Gemma Gary’s Craft approach/workings might agree. Perhaps too busy to desecrate the blackberry bushes anymore? 🙂 ) .
Other folklore attests to an arch of bramble. One that has rooted at both ends was believed to have special powers. If you wished to invoke evil spirits you could do so by crawling through the arch at Samhuinn while making your wish. An arch of bramble could also be used to cure, such as a child with whooping cough. It could be cured by passing the young child under the arch three times before breakfast for nine consecutive days while saying “in bramble, out cough, here I leave the whooping cough.” Others testify to finding a piece of Bramble vine on your cows tail at Bealtainn. This was a sure sign of evil afoot and signified someone might be after the Toradh (goodness or fruitfulness) of your herds milk .
Regardless the Hedge rows are alive with these little berries. I have provided a number of recipes you might want to give a shot over the berry picking season which maybe aren’t the norm (and to be honest are mostly alcohol based).
- 750ml Whisky (relatively cheap stuff will do)
- 500ml of Blackberries (if you have more or less whisky the ratio I tend to go off is at least of 2/3rds the amount of liquid to berry ratio. The higher ration you go the stronger the taste but the lesser the alcohol percentage can be.
- Sugar syrup to taste.
In a wide-mouthed jar put Blackberries and squish them and cover with whisky. Leave for at least three months (it’s better after a year). Once you have left it long enough strain out fruit with a muslin cloth (you can use this to make an awesome boozy Cranachan or topping for your porridge) and add sugar syrup to taste. I tend not to add any but everyone is different.
Blackberry Liquor (Créme de Mure)
- 2 cups of blackberries
- 3cm Strip of Lemon peel (no pith as its goes bitter) or a table-spoon of chopped Larch Needles
- 1 1/4 cups vodka
- 3/4 cups brandy
- 1/2 cup sugar syrup
Add all the fruit and zest (or needles) in a jar and squish them. Add the alcohol. Leave to macerate. I would suggest a minimum of one month but everybody is different. Add sugar syrup to taste.
Now that you have these ingredients you can perhaps try …
Smokey Whisky Bramble Cocktail
The Smokey flavour of the tea mixes well with the whisky flavour and compliments the tartness of the berries with lemon juice. If you’re a blackberry fan you’ll love this!
- 2oz Blackberry Whisky (or BlackBerry Liquor if you prefer)
- 3/4 oz Creme de cassis
- 1oz Cold lapsing Souchong tea
- 1/2oz Lemon Juice
- Fresh Blackberries
Squish blackberries (reserving one) through a strainer into cocktail shaker. Add ice and other ingredients. Shake hard. Once shaken serve over ice and garnish with remaining Blackberry.
Blackberry Whisky Jam
Another whisky inspired recipe. You can use all kinds of berries in this one but as we are on a blackberry theme well lets stick to that …
- 1 Kg of blackberries
- 350g of Apples (you can replace the apples with pectin if you wish but you would need to follow the directions on the pectin packaging in how to make the recipe and not the directions below)
- 100ml of Whisky
- water and sugar
Put brambles and apples in a bowl and pour over the whisky. Stir and leave overnight. Next day drain off the whisky and keep to the side. Place the remaining fruit and just cover with water. Boil then simmer for about 30 – 40 mins. Then pass the fruit and boiled juice through muslin or a jelly bag and suspend the muslin or jelly bag over the bowl overnight to drip through into the bowl. Don’t be tempted to squeeze it unless you don’t mind cloudy jam. Measure the juice. For every 600ml (pint) of Juice add 300g or 12oz of sugar. Heat gently for about 10 mins or until its setting point has been reached. Take off the heat and pour in left over whisky. Pop into sterilised jars and that’s you ! This would be amazing on porridge on a cold morning or hot scones or bannocks with lots of butter.
Blackberry Drop Cake
This is one of the most easiest things to cook in the world. Honestly. It’s fool-proof (even i can make it so that’s how easy it is). It’s a total no faff recipe that tastes great.
- 1 cup of flour
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 cup of milk
- 1/2 cup of melted butter
- 1 pint of blackberries (you could even use the ones left over from straining out from the whisky above)
Preheat the oven to about 190c. grease or spray a Cast Iron frying pan (about 10-12″ diameter) with butter or oil and set aside. Whisk all the ingredients together except the Blackberries until there are no lumps remaining. Pour batter into the prepared frying pan. Scatter the blackberries on the top of the batter. Cook for 40 – 50 mins (until the edges go brown and lift slightly from the frying pan). Leave to cool for 10 mins and eat right or slice right out of the pan (do not tip the cake out the pan). Would go really well with vanilla ice cream.
Blackberry and Sage Shrub
You can make a shrub into a low-alcohol cocktail called a shim by adding a splash of sparkling wine, vermouth, or your favorite apéritif.
- 1 pound blackberries (about 3 cups)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 10 fresh sage leaves
- 3/4 cup red-wine vinegar
- 3/4 cup sherry vinegar
- Chilled sparkling water, for serving
In a large nonreactive pot (such as stainless steel), combine berries, sugar, and sage. Let stand 1 hour, stirring a few times. Cook over medium heat until warm to the touch, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a bare simmer (do not let boil).
Remove from heat; let stand at room temperature, uncovered, 24 hours. Remove and discard sage. Strain shrub base; reserve pickled berries (which can be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week) for another use. Transfer shrub base to another airtight container; refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 1 month.
Fill glasses halfway with ice. Top with 1 part shrub base and 4 to 5 parts sparkling water. Stir once; garnish with more sage and fresh berries, if desired. Serve immediately
I think that should be enough to keep folks going for a while. If you are of the inclination you could also try home brewing you blackberries into mead (there’s a great tutorial here) If you know of any interesting and different uses for blackberries please do let me know in the comments below.
 Cameron, J. (1883). Gaelic Names of Plants (Scottish and Irish)
 Patrick, W (1931) A popular description of indigenous plants of Lanarkshire.
 “the definition of bramble”. Dictionary.com.
 taken from The Folklore and Traditions of the Irish Hedgerows.