During summer, nature begins to offer a bounty all its own, free for the picking – wild berries! And if you’re new to wild berry picking, the best place to start is with wild blackberries and raspberries. They’re unmistakable, easy to pick, delicious, and can readily be found in summer.
Here are some tips for taking advantage of wild blackberry and raspberry season in your area.
About Wild Blackberries and Raspberries
There are many, many types of wild edible berries, but blackberries and raspberries are by far the easiest to identify. Growing in those telltale tiny clusters, they don’t have any lookalikes and are all safe to eat.
Spring berry blooms.
Blackberries and raspberries are very similar, and they’re picked (and enjoyed!) in the same ways. Blackberries are always black when ripe while raspberries can be red or black, depending on the variety. For our purposes, the only real difference is that raspberries are hollow and cup shaped, while blackberries are solid to the stem.
With a little practice, you’ll quickly learn to identify the plants as well. They have three compound leaves that are oval-shaped and toothed along the edges. The wild plants are very thorny (cultivated varieties can be thornless) and usually grow in brambles.
I like to scope out my picking-spots in the spring, when the plants are covered in small white blooms that are easily spotted from a distance. The berries ripen in May or June in warmer climates, and July in cooler climates, and can be picked over several weeks.
Farm fence covered in blackberries.
Blackberry and Raspberry Picking Tips
As you head out with your pails and baskets, follow these tips for successful wild berry picking:
Where to Find Berries: Look along sunny roadways, fences, and in overgrown meadows. Berries are especially common at the edge of wooded areas, which means you can easily spot them along the sides of country highways and around the edges of pastures and farm fields. Be sure to ask permission before picking berries on private property.
Protect Yourself: In addition to being thorny, blackberries and raspberries tend to grow in wild, overgrown areas that are frequently inhabited by unpleasant companions such as wasps, snakes, mosquitoes, chiggers, and poison ivy. Wear closed shoes, long pants, and long sleeves to protect your skin from stings and bites. Gloves are also helpful but tend to snag on the thorns; I usually just accept a few scratched fingers as the cost of doing business.
Make Noise: People aren’t the only ones who enjoy blackberries. Be sure to make plenty of noise to alert other nibbling critters, such as bears and snakes, of your presence.
Pick Only Ripe Berries: Blackberries and raspberries don’t ripen after they’re picked, so only take the best ones. Ripe berries are large, plump, deeply colored, and easily slip off the stem. If you have to tug, it isn’t ripe. I always find it helpful to taste a few berries here and there to make sure I’m doing a good job finding the ripest, sweetest ones!
Carry a Container: Drop your berries into a shallow bucket or basket. I like to use a lightweight plastic bowl or colander. It’s OK to fill the container, but don’t pack them in or press them down. Since the plants are so thorny, give everybody their own bucket, so that you don’t have to detangle yourself every time your hands are full.
Be Patient: Often the best berries are hidden in the middle of the plant. If you take the time to search out the ripe ones, you may find that you can get all the berries you want without taking more than a few steps.
Wild berry cobbler!
After Picking: Keep your berries in the shade and get them into the fridge or a cooler as soon as possible. They’ll keep for a few days, possibly a week, in the fridge. Don’t wash them until right before you’re going to use them. To wash, rinse the berries in cool water, discarding any rotten or squashed ones.
Salt Water Bath: Some veteran berry pickers like to soak the fresh berries for an hour or two in salt water (one cup per gallon), to dislodge any little grubs that might be hiding inside. I’ve never done this and never spotted any worms; but then again, maybe I’ve inadvertently eaten some extra protein!
Eating Berries: I tend to eat berries almost as fast as I pick, but if any fresh berries actually make it indoors, there are all sorts of ways to enjoy them. Sprinkle fresh berries on cereal or salads, make jam, enjoy cobblers and pies, and freeze the leftovers for smoothies or a midwinter treat. Blackberries and raspberries are packed with vitamins and antioxidants, so other than a possible stomachache, they really can’t be overeaten.