A few days ago our family got stranded on the side of the road. As usually happens when we get stranded somewhere, we could not have asked for a nicer place. It’s almost as if the universe feels the need to apologize for our inconvenience, even when that inconvenience turns out to be for our better good.
The campground that we landed at has a trail down to the river. One of the very first things that my daughter and I did was walk down to that river for some very old fashioned water washing away. There are few things in the world as freeing as releasing grief into fast moving water, as cooling as bare feet over stone, and as humorous as mud squishing between your toes. Being able to experience all three at the same time was just what we needed.
It is a testament of our emotional state that we didn’t notice the blackberries until we were returning from the water.
The trail down to the river was a dense thicket of brambles, following the edge of the clearing almost as far as we could see in either direction. It was getting dark, but there was no denying the ripeness of the berries that hung heavy from the arching arms reaching out onto the path.
We went back yesterday with my youngest daughters as well, but the day had gotten away from us so all we could do was enjoy getting our feet wet and searching for hag stones.
Today we resolved to go back and pick some blackberries for the house.
You may or may not know this but we’re a family of bookworms. In fact, when we stop for coffee out in town we normally give our name to the barista as Witchy Momma and the Nerdlings.
Anyway, my youngest two daughters LOVE the book Blackberry Mouse. It’s all about a grumpy little mouse who doesn’t want to share his blackberry bounty until he is taught a valuable lesson about friendship.
(Amazon affiliate link)
Their favorite thing to do is to take their book outside with whole containers of blackberries from the store and not return until every berry is gone. I’m not sure if they picked up on the friendship lesson or the hoarding of blackberries, but they’re content to share with each other so I suppose that is enough.
The youngest decided to stay back with Big Brother and do laundry, so off we went, my oldest two daughters and I, on a berry picking adventure.
We started our hike with a quick stop at the gardens where the girls gathered fallen rose petals to give as an offering to both the river and the blackberries.
Not just blackberry mice, these girls are little witches.
Like so many of our walks, it turned into an herbal education. Did you know that blackberries are part of the rose family?
One of our favorite games to play is Plant Ally Scavenger Hunt where one of us spots something and the others have to find it. Along the way we found Mayweed Chamomile, Queen Anne’s Lace, Red Clover, Dandelion, several species of Spruce, and of course, the Blackberries. Of all the identification tips that they received today, I think their favorite was for Queen Anne’s Lace.
If you’re unsure just check the stem…the Queen has hairy legs!
Once we got to the blackberries, the girls became all business. They walked down to the water and offered the rose petals to Mother Earth as thanks for the berries we were about to pick. Then they scurried back up the bank to formally thank the brambles as well.
Have you ever seen a witch bow to a bramble? I think the blackberries must have appreciated the honor as one of them braided itself into my sweet Emmy’s hair.
Obviously the fruit is what we were after today, but did you know that the blackberry bush is helpful in all of its forms? Fruit, leaf (Amazon affiliate link), bramble, and root all have medicinal, magical, and historical significance as well as a few practical uses just to keep it well rounded.
- 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.
- 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 plant parts for use in protective magic should be gathered during the waning moon.
- 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.
Read more at https://witchipedia.com/book-of-shadows/herblore/blackberry/. This is a great resource for overall herbal information as well as witchcraft.
Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)
Other Names: bramble / dewberry / goutberry / thimbleberry / scaldhead
Composition: Blackberry leaf includes the fresh or dried leaf, which contains tannins.
Description / History: Blackberry is commonly found on the edges of wooded areas around the world. Traditionally, the leaves have been used for numerous ailments, but their astringent properties have been the ones to stand the test of time and scientific scrutiny.
Pharmacological Actions: astringent
Contraindications: none known
Additional Effects: none known
Interactions: none known
Dosage: 4.5 g leaf / day in 2-3 infusions
Method(s) of Administration: teas for internal use and mouthwashes
Excerpted from Botanical Medicine in the Home, pages 183-184
Okay, so here we go. One of the things I love most in this world is herbal medicine, but the terminology can be a little intimidating for people who haven’t heard it before.
An infusion is basically tea. Soaking herbal matter by pouring boiling water over it.
An astringent is anything that is drying and tightening. The focus in Botanical Medicine in the Home is on digestive complaint, but astringents like blackberry leaf are also helpful for drying up excessive bleeding during menstruation.
The actions of an astringent herb are apparent anytime we drink a cup of tea or glass of wine. The dry, tightening feeling in the mouth reflects the astringent action of tannins. (Yes, this is the same action judged in a wine tasting.) The role of astringents in the body is primarily beneficial with wound healing and the digestive process. Long-term use of tannic rich drinks can damage the lining of the gut, so tannic rich foods and drinks should be taken in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
Astringent tannins have many benefits medicinally. They literally alter the protein on tissue surfaces to reduce irritation and topical inflammation. They can also form a barrier to protect large wounds from infection.
Conditions that benefit from astringent herbs include digestive complaints, surface wounds, inflammatory bowel conditions and other related concerns. The overuse of astringents internally can lead to altered nutrient absorption.
Excerpted from Understanding Holistic Health, page 124
Then of course there is a decoction. The big difference between an infusion and a decoction is that an infusion typically uses more tender parts of the plant. A decoction often uses tougher parts of the plant, such as roots and actually boils the water down to concentrate the medicinal properties.
Decoction comes from a Latin word which means to boil down. It is best suited for herbs that require constant heat to give up their properties and do not contain essential (volatile) oils that would be lost with heat. Usually, this refers to roots, bark, and seeds. Generally, both decoctions and infusions are made with water as the menstruum. Decoctions can be used for a variety of preparations, including internal (as in a tea) or external (as in a compress).
Excerpted from Botanical Medicine in the Home, page 247
The Brambles of Summer
Many rose family plants, including Rubus species such as Raspberry and Blackberry, are astringent tonics. This means that they tighten and tone lax tissues, and that’s useful in a practical sense because they help to restrict the loss of needed fluid through those too relaxed tissues. This could be excessive diarrhea or sweating during a fever that is leading to dehydration, excessive uterine bleeding during menstruation, excessive urination, or even bleeding, swollen gums as the result of gum disease.
Most of us think of the leaf or even root in regards to medicinal uses, but the tart, unripe or partially ripe berries are also very useful, and children are generally more easily convinced to take a tasty berry potion than even the nicest tea. The good news is that Rubus species tend to be very tasty indeed, from leaf to berry! There are a great many ways to turn Blackberries, Raspberries, and other closely related species into medicine, and I’ll provide a couple recipes here so you can get an idea of some easy ways to make your own remedies with them.
This elixir is tasty, easy to make, and lasts forever if kept in a cool, dark place. If you prefer not to use this small amount of alcohol, then a syrup also works very well. The berries are rich in antioxidants and have some value in inhibiting the flu virus (I really like to add blackberry to my Elderberry syrup as well, for just that reason), among their many other virtues. This elixir or the syrup can help reduce feverishness and diarrhea in both children and adults while still tasting good.
Note: Do NOT wash the berries just prior to using them, the extra water can make the elixir ferment! You want the berries and leaves as dry as possible.
For your elixir, it’s helpful to have on hand:
a pint canning jar (or other glass jar that seals well)
approximately half a pint of blackberries (preferably a mix of various stages of ripeness, as the less ripe berries are more astringent)
approximately half a pint of fresh blackberry leaves, roughly chopped
cinnamon to taste (optional)
fresh ginger to taste, grated or finely chopped (optional)
about a pint of high quality brandy (the better the brandy, the better your elixir will taste)
approximately 1/4 pint of raw honey
a good stirring spoon
First, fill your jar all the way to the top with the Blackberry fruit and leaves, you don’t have to pack them in but push them down a bit to minimize the air space in the jar. Add optional spices if desired, these are especially nice if being used for any sort of gut upset, and help to reduce cramping. Now, pour the honey in slowly, stirring as necessary, until the plant matter is well coated. Next, fill to the top with brandy, against stirring as necessary to remove air bubbles and fill the jar evenly. Now cover the jar with a tight fitting lid, and shake carefully to finish the mixing process. Let macerate in a cool, dark place for four to six weeks (or as long as you can stand to wait. Strain through coffee filter. Bottle and store in a cool, dry place away from sunlight until needed.
Wildflower and Bramble Leaf Tea
This is a lovely tea to drink just for taste’s sake, but it’s wonderful for calming irritated nerves, overheated children (and adults), and addressing any seasonal digestive issues as often happens with summertime bouts of diarrhea. It won’t dry up secretions to the point of causing suppression, but it will cool the body, reduce a fever, and gently lessen any excess loss of fluids.
2 tsp of fresh blackberry or raspberry leaf
1 tsp fresh rose petals
1 tsp fresh Lemon Balm leaves
2-3 fresh violet leaves
1 cup boiling water
Pour the water over the herbs and let steep 5 to 10 minutes. Honey can be added to taste. This can also be iced and served cold, and drunk as desired.
I always thought of blackberries as more magical than medicinal. There’s just something about them. I think it all started with the fact that blackberries often have berries in every stage of ripeness on them at the same time. Almost like Mother Earth knew that the animals, and we humans as well, would need food over an entire season even though we would happily sit and feast upon every berry in a single sitting if they were all ripe at once. Smart woman, that Mother.
Of course there is more to this plant than meets the eye and if we slow down to get to know it, we might also discern its magical properties.
Blackberry in the Ritual Circle
Blackberries can be used as-is for the simple feast in ritual, and given as offerings to nature spirits and the gods. Blackberry cordial makes a delicious beverage for harvest feasts or rituals.
Scott Cunningham, in his Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, says Blackberry is sacred to the goddess Brigid. I’m not sure if this association is based on lore or folk tradition, but it seems appropriate to me. Consider: If you’ve been scratched by blackberry canes, you know the scratches burn like fire. But the berries and flowers are cool and soothing, and I find them intensely watery, especially the fruit. The leaves are the most interesting: they often have sharp little spines on the underside, running along the center vein, so they have that scrape and burn quality about them. But blackberry leaves are traditionally used to treat burns and scalds. Cunningham attributes Blackberry to water, but for me she’ll always belong to both fire and water. This is one reason I feel an association with Brigid is fitting, Brigid being a goddess of both the forge and the holy well.
There’s not room in this post to discuss blackberry’s many medicinal qualities: I’ll leave that to the clinical herbalists. But she heals at the spirit level as well as the physical.
All invasive plants teach us about resilience: blackberry can be used in magic and energy work to inspire strength and courage in challenging circumstances.
Blackberry takes hold in disturbed habitats, covering damaged ground, healing the soil, and providing food where there might otherwise be none. She can be used in healing magic for people who’ve been so wounded emotionally and spiritually they feel raw and exposed, and/or empty and barren. She can help you return from devastation.
Blackberry offers food and medicine to humans, and a tangle of brambles will shelter a surprising variety of birds, reptiles and rodents. But she doesn’t give it all away for free. If you approach without respect and attention, she’ll let you know she doesn’t appreciate your attitude, young lady. She is firm in her demand for respect and good boundaries. Sure, you might take her down with a lawn mower, but she’ll get a few good bites in before she falls: and she’ll be back good as new faster than you can say “bleeding blackberry scratches.” She’s a valuable ally for anyone with a giving, caring nature who has a problem setting healthy boundaries. For this purpose, one might spend time meditating with the plant and/or ingesting the edible parts regularly over time, or walking in places where blackberry grows wild.
Blackberry is used for protection spells and charms as well, and I especially like the thorns for protective magic.
Anything as vigorous as blackberry makes good prosperity magic. Blackberry roots are especially good for spells designed to help meet our physical needs like food and shelter, and the leaves are wonderful for expanding businesses and creative efforts, or any situation where our prosperity is related to how we reach out into the world.
Resilience, healing boundaries, prosperity, protection … that’s a lot of magic for an unassuming plant. But I’m a fan of everyday sorts of magic, and I like the company of so-called common things. There’s a lot of unexplored potential in the things we take for granted.
Read more at https://www.hagstonepublishing.com/post/2019/03/13/the-magic-of-blackberry. This is a great resource for beginning your own metaphysical and nature-based spiritual journey.
The Magical Vine: Blackberry
Following the wheel of the year through the Celtic tree calendar, September 2nd begins the time of vine and its ogham character Muin. While the tree calendar is a modern construct, it holds meaning because of the concepts it has come to symbolize and the significance it has for twenty-first century magic, ritual, and everyday life.
This period (from September 2 to September 29) is associated with inner growth and energy. Like a vine, our paths do not usually take a straight course, however, we can empower ourselves to adapt and make changes in our lives.
While vine has come to include the grapevine, it actually refers to the blackberry vines that populated the hedgerows in the British Isles and formed thorny thickets. The name of the ogham character Muin comes from a Gaelic word meaning “thicket.” (Niall MacCoitir, Irish Trees: Myths, Legends & Folklore, 167.)Wine has been produced from blackberries for many centuries. Warm weather at the end of September was known as a blackberry summer.
In European folk medicine, the arching canes of blackberry vines were believed to have magical properties and people crept underneath the arches or passed children through gaps in the bush for particular cures. Blackberry bushes were also believed to protect against evil. In parts of England, they were sometimes planted or placed on graves with the belief that they would keep the dead in place.
Grow a blackberry bush on your property to attract fairies or set out a small bowl of berries as a token of friendship with them. Eat a handful of blackberries before magic work or when working with the fairy realm. Burn dried leaves in spells to attract money or sprinkle them around your property to draw luck. Because of the winding nature of brambles, this is an opportune time for binding spells.
Make a wreath with several prickly canes to hang above your altar or on your front door for protective energy. Place a blackberry cane alongside your altar to aid in grounding energy after ritual. Because blackberries are associated with Brigid, gather enough to make jam or wine and use it to honor her at Imbolc.
Thanks for joining us on this slightly different Digging Deeper post. I could have gone on for pages and pages on the health benefits or growing habits of blackberries, but I thought this would be more fun. Taking a walk into the wilderness with me and my girls.
There are medicinal and magical plant allies all around us. I encourage you to go outside and find some. If you’re not sure about identification you can reach out to your local ag extension office for pamphlets or book recommendations. Often a local botanical field guide is enough. Then get curious. Don’t just study the plants in books, sit down with them and get to know them. There are tons of free resources online as well. Happy foraging!