Brambles form a complex group known as Rubus fruticosus agg. (short for aggregate), containing around 320 individual ‘species’ known as microspecies (3). These varieties are very difficult to tell apart (1). All brambles are sprawling shrubs, with thick prickly stems that are able to take root at their tips (2). The leaves have toothed edges and bear prickles on their undersides (2). The flowers tend to be creamy white with splashes of pink, and the unmistakable blackberries are a deep purplish-black when ripe (4). Microspecies differ on the basis of certain morphological features, including the density and arrangement of the prickles, and general growth form (5).
Brambles are deciduous or semi-evergreen shrubs (3) that are in leaf from March to November (6). Unusually, the ripe fruits can be seen on the plants at the same time as the flowers (7). It flowers from May to September, with the seeds ripening from July to October (6).
Blackberry seeds were discovered in the stomach of a Neolithic human dug up on the Essex coast, indicating that the berries have been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years (8). Blackberrying is one of the most widespread foraging activities to continue today, and they have been picked commercially in many areas (4). As well as their many culinary uses, blackberries have been used to obtain a purple dye. A fibre can be obtained from the stem and the leaves can be dried and used as a substitute for tea (6). The leaves and roots have been used to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, and cystitis, and can be made into a gargle for sore throats mouth ulcers and other sores (6).
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