The Thirteen Trees
Ogham Moon Calendar
The Five Trees
The Half Year
The Sacred One
Original artwork © Ruby Clark 2010
Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1908, from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Blackberry vines, with their long, thorny canes are a common sight arching among the English lanes and hedgerows, scrambling over fences, spreading quickly to make huge impenetrable barriers if left untended. They grow well in almost any soil, particulary a sandy one, in sun or shade, but like most plants, they will flower (delicate pink and white flowers from June through to September) and crop (August and September) better if they find some sunshine.
"Blackberrying" is still a favourite autumn afternoon out for families, as it has been for hundreds of years. Fingers and lips stained dark purple from the sweet juice as we 'eat a few as I go along', hands and arms scratched from the spiteful thorns, but triumphant with enough of the blackberry harvest to eat fresh or cooked and turned into delicious jellies and crumbles.
In the Celtic Ogham history, traditions of the more northerly european countries have the bramble as the sacred wood for the 10th lunar month . In warmer places of the south, the Ogham wood is the vine. Similar in growth habit, in the time of ripening and even the colour of the fruit, both have strong healing properties and fruit that can be used in wine.
Bramble Healing and Medicine.
Blackberries are placed nowadays among the antioxidant 'superfoods'. They are a very rich source of Vitamin C, A, Omega-3, Potassium and Calcium.
All parts of the plant have been used down the centuries for healing - the Native Americans used a concoction of the roots and leaves to help with stomach and digestion problems. We now know that the plants are astringent because they are high in tannins, and are a natural source of salycilate which is in modern day aspirin and relieves tissue inflamation..
Chewing the leaves for bleeding, diseased gums and gradually loosening teeth is a remedy that goes back hundreds of years.
The 16th century herbalist
John Gerard suggests in his 'Great Herbal', a recipe of blackberry leaves that had been first boiled in water with honey, alum and a little white wine to make a mouth rinse for 'fastening' the teeth.
NB: You can study or downlad the whole of Gerrard's 'Great Herbal' here- but be warned, it is 420mbs in size!
Culpeper advises us to use a liquid strained from the boiled buds, leaves and slithers of the wood for treating 'putrid sores in the mouth and throat'.
A recipe for Fresh Blackberry Leaf Tea : (for 1 mug)
1 handful fresh green blackberry leaves.
1½ mugs water
(Optional) small pieces of stem, bark or clean root and a few ripe berries for colour
. Simmer the green leaves (and bark if used) in the water for about 10 minutes
(do not boil as this may reduce the vitamin content) .
Strain into cups and add honey.
Use this hot, as a refreshing vitamin and antioxidant filled tea, or cold as a gargle for sore throats or as an astringent mouthwash.
There are more blackberry recipes on my Hedgerow Cooking page.
Religion, Spirituality and Folklore
Element: Water Ruling Planet: Venus Gender: Feminine Deities: Brighid
It was a tradition in many places in the British Isles that blackberries were not to be eaten. "Leave them for the fairies" the saying goes. Well, it seems to me that there should be plenty for everyone and the magic folk I know would be happy to share, unless you have happened upon a clutch of the most spiteful ones! Read more about 21st century fairies here.
The legend most closely associated with blackberry vines is one warning us not to pick and eat the fruit after Michaelmas Day - September 29th, or the old Michaelmas day, which was October 10th. The story is an ancient concoction of christianity, paganism and old wives' tales:
Fountain of the Falling Angel , by Ricardo Bellver (1877) in the Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain.
God smiled on his two greatest Archangels, Michael and Lucifer. They were the wisest of all the angels in Heaven, but Lucifer was perhaps the most beautiful - even his name means 'The Shining One'.
God gave him beauty and intelligence beyond measure and Lucifer should have loved God and obeyed him forever. But Lucifer was also proud. He became arrogant and eventually he dared to think "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; " (Isiah. 14:13,14) He found other angels who would follow him in his rebellion.
God couldn't allow a rebellion in heaven, or sinners who wanted to replace Him, and so He judged that Lucifer and his followers must be punished and cast from the heights of heaven.
He fell as Icarus was to fall, down and down through the cosmos until he plunged to Earth, and there he landed in a huge clump of blackberry vines and the terrible thorns took hold of his cloak and wings and he was held prisoner for a while.
Lucifer battled to free himself from the brambles and was so angry with the plant that he spat into it - some even say he urinated in it to show his contempt. Now, Lucifer's name of Shining One has changed to Satan - which means 'enemy or adversary' and the blackberries are no longer worth eating after the day when Michael became the chief Archangel in heaven - Michaelmas Day.
Folklore legends are usually based on some common sense - and in this case the blackberries are definitely less pleasant to eat after the end of September as they become flyblown and the bitter taste of the tannin is much stronger.
Lord Woodmouse and Primrose picking blackberries (picture cropped)
from 'Autumn Story' by Jill Barklem
* Burn a small handful of dried blackberry leaves in a burning incense, or over a candle flame - make more energies by using a yellow, gold or green candle for wealth or treasure.
* A bramble vine that has grown into a natural arch was used to aid healing, especially recommended for rheumatism or whooping-cough. A baby would be passed through the arch backwards and then three times forwards - an older child or adult would crawl, preferably in an east - west direction whilst helpers asked the deities for their help.
* Weather watch: a very cold spell whilst the blackberries are in full flower (late June to July) is known as a Blackberry Winter. It foretells plenty of snow and ice later in the year.
'Blackberry Girl' - illustration by Nellie Benson from 'A Flower Book' - Dumpy Books for Children 1901
* To heal skin which has been scalded, dip nine blackberry leaflets into spring water and lay them on the burn. Whilst doing this you must chant the following spell three times for each leaf as an invocation to Brighid, the celtic goddess of healing and of poetry:
Three ladies come from the east,
One with fire and two with frost.
Out with fire and in with frost.
* Take a tiny piece of blackberry stem, picked at Mabon (Sep 21st - can be 22nd or 23rd), or under the Harvest Moon (see more here).
Carefully strip it of its prickles and bark, power it with your intention - keep it in your pocket or tucked into your power bag, as a touch-charm to guard against poverty.
You might like the poetry and faery art of the Blackberry and Bramble kind, here on Muddypond's faery-tale blog
'Wolf Moons and Muddypond Green'