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Still savouring the summer: blackberries


Oh, it is the season for blackberries! If you have been in the UK lately, and fortunate enough to be near some countryside or hedgerows, you will likely have seen the bramble bushes getting ready for a bumper crop.

This magical time of the year – when we ward off the thoughts of ‘back to school’ with phrases like ‘Indian Summer’ – is celebrated in Seamus Heaney’s poem Blackberry-picking:

Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it …

This poem, which will be familiar to anyone who was or knows a GCSE English student, describes the young Seamus Heaney racing out to the fields and collecting immense numbers of blackberries. (Though shockingly, at the end he admits he made NOTHING whatsoever out of this haul of nutritional goodness!)

Blackberries are perhaps the one food for which, in the UK, most of us are actually still used to foraging. That ritual of fishing about for containers, digging out old clothes that won’t mind getting snagged or ‘berried’, perhaps finding a stick for hooking down the far-away fruits – it’s a childhood pleasure, but also seasonal rite of passage. Who can resist its lure?

I would suggest that going blackberry picking is the perfect way to enjoy the late summer sun, make the most of any spare time off, and give yourself a wonderful dose of good nutrition.

Health benefits

First of all, blackberries are an excellent source of vitamin C. One hundred grams of berries, or about two good handfuls, will give you 23 mg of it – just over half of the UK’s official recommended daily intake.

Berry fruits contain plentiful amounts of beneficial polyphenols of a type called flavonoids, which operate as both antioxidants and anti-inflammatories in the human body.

Furthermore, one sub-type of flavonoid found in berries, called anthocyanidins, has been found to benefit signalling in the brain in both animal and human trials.

So before we enter into autumn, we can get a good dose of beneficial antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and vitamin C – it’s as if we’re getting some pre-protection against the risk of colds ahead.

What to do with blackberries

In terms of preparation, blackberries are very easy creatures. Unlike other ‘foraged’ berries, such as elderberries, you don’t have to cook them. However, they can easily be frozen and enjoyed later in the autumn, while keeping much of their nutritional value.

Here are a few ideas for storing and using blackberries:

1. Freeze for use later (perfect for smoothies)

When you come home from blackberrying, wash the berries in a colander or sieve and set to drain. Once they are fairly dry, lay out a fresh tea towel (one you don’t mind getting stained), or some paper kitchen roll, on the counter top. Tip the blackberries out very gently. Pull out any squishy ones to enjoy immediately, and allow the others to roll around and dry off.

Find some freezable trays and spread the berries out into one layer. Freeze them like this for a few hours, and they will become hard enough to shovel into little bags for longer freezing.

When you are ready to make a smoothie, add frozen blackberries directly into a blender along with protein, liquid, and green veg of your choice. Spinach is also in season, so you could use that along with coconut milk, almond butter and berries. Yum.

2. Have raw for a pudding or breakfast

I think blackberries work beautifully with organic oats and homemade milk kefir for breakfast. You can soften the oats overnight, by soaking them in a little water and kefir. This will make them easier to digest, by breaking down the oat proteins – explained nicely here by The Kitchn. In the morning, add some more kefir, a pile of squishy or defrosted blackberries, half a chopped apple, and some almond or peanut butter if you’d like more protein. Delicious!

3. Make a salad

In my book, it’s still summer – and to me, summer won’t end until we have had our Indian summer, Michaelmas summer, and St Luke’s summers. So let’s make salads!

Here is Joseph Mercola’s healthy Blackberry salad:

4. Make a healthier crumble

Crumbles don’t have to be all about sugar and white flour. Healthier blackberry and apple crumbles – and I do mean only health-ier, not to be eaten abundantly each day! – can be made using oats and crushed nuts for the topping and adding honey or dried fruit to the base.

Here’s a lovely recipe from Deliciously Ella, which uses maple syrup as a sweetener but also, cleverly, adds quite a bit of cinnamon to increase sweetness with less need for added sugar.

5. Make punnets to give away

This time of year is perfect for making connections with neighbours by dropping off punnets of blackberry harvest. You may know of some house-bound people who’d love to have some freshly-picked berries for their breakfasts. Or it might be the perfect moment to meet the people next door before cooler weather comes in. You never know when you might be glad of the favour being returned!

I would love to hear some of your favourite ways to use blackberries. And for now, let me wish you a very happy continuation of summer,


Emma Maitland-Carew, Nutritional Therapist in Oxford and Bloxham, Oxfordshire

PS Elderberries are also abundant at this time of year. Although they have to be cooked before use, they too are absolute powerhouses of nutrition. I’ll probably tweet about them soon.


Joseph J, Cole G, Head E, Ingram D. Nutrition, brain aging, and neurodegeneration. J. Neurosci. 29(41), 12795–12801 (2009).

Miller MG, Shukitt-Hale B. Berry fruit enhances beneficial signaling in the brain. J. Agric. Food Chem. 60(23), 5709–5715 (2012).

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