How to find and harvest wild blackberries

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Wild blackberries are a favorite summertime treat. Gatherers can find wild blackberries in Ohio’s woodlands, along the borders of farm fields, and on overgrown fencerows.

Growth habits

Blackberries grow on thorny shrubs called brambles. Brambles are members of the rose family. Each bramble is a collection of several canes. Canes are four to six feet long and live for two years. Canes do not produce berries the first year. Two-year-old canes bear fruit and then die. New canes are continually produced, resulting in briar patches growing so dense that they burden farmers by closing-in on field crops and interfering with harvest equipment.

Beginners have the best luck finding wild blackberry briars in May when brambles are highlighted by bright white flowers. Plants have sharp-toothed leaves that grow in leaflets of three to five. As spring turns to summer, tiny green berries turn to red and finally to black.

Brambles produce a steady supply of ripe berries from July through August. Wild blackberry cultivars yield fewer berries than their domestic cousins, but if you enjoy free food and the thrill of the hunt, an afternoon of gathering wild blackberries is well worth the effort!

How to identify wild blackberries

  1. Look for shrubs along wood lines and farm fields and on overgrown fencerows.
  2. Brambles consist of several long canes that arch over to touch the ground.
  3. In May, brambles have small white flowers with five petals and numerous stamens.
  4. Leaves have sharp-toothed edges. Leaflets are composed of three to five leaves.
  5. Berries turn green to red and finally black as they ripen.

Make a positive identification before consuming wild edibles. For help, check out these guide books:

  • Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places, by Steve Brill
  • Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America, by Lee Allen Peterson and Roger Tory Peterson

Deter wildlife

Deer, raccoons, and birds love blackberries as much as humans. Bird netting is an effective way to deter wildlife from eating berries before gatherers can get to them. Mesh netting is lightweight and portable. Cover briars when berries begin to turn red. Netting deters pests but allows sufficient water, sunlight and air to circulate so that berries will continue to ripen beneath the netting. You can purchase inexpensive bird netting at farm and garden supply stores or online.

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