By Tracy Nelson, Area Biologist, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Blackberries are one of the most important fruit sources for wildlife in Alabama. Many refer to blackberry as “brambles” because the plants form dense stands of rambling, non-climbing shrubs having thorns and bristles. Historically, blackberry has been used medicinally by people to treat a variety of illnesses. In addition, blackberries are a popular wild edible enjoyed by many.

Blackberry fruits initially grow green, then turn red, before ultimately ripen to black. Wildlife species such as deer, quail, raccoons, chipmunks, ruffed grouse, squirrels, woodcock, and many other birds readily consume the blackberry fruits. Fruits are usually consumed from June to October; however, dry fruits are eaten by some wildlife species in fall and winter. Blackberry leaves are browsed by deer and are a significant part of their diet from May to September. In addition to its food value, blackberry also benefits wildlife by providing thickets that serve as protective cover. These thickets are also used as nesting sites for birds, rabbits and small rodents.

Medicinally, the blackberry plant has been used to treat a variety of ailments for many years. In this country, blackberry roots were used to make a tea that helped alleviate the problem of diarrhea and dysentery. In addition, a tea made from the dried leaves has been used by herbalists as a blood purifier. Also, blackberry fruit is rich in dietary fiber and a good source of Vitamin C, making it valuable for maintaining good health.

Another value of the blackberry plant is its use as a wild edible. Many people enjoy the fresh, sweet tasting fruit that ripens from June to September. The fruit can also be cooked and added to cobblers or used to make delicious jellies. The tender, young peeled sprouts and twigs can be eaten raw or added to salads. The leaves can be dried to make a pleasant, healthy tea.

In conclusion, the blackberry plant is extremely valuable to wildlife and people. Many wildlife species depend upon it each year for food, cover, and nesting. In the past as well as in the present, people have benefited by the medicinal uses of the blackberry plant. As a wild food, the blackberry plant is at the top of the list for taste and nutritional value.