Ask almost any Southerner why it is so unseasonably chilly right now in May (it was 31 degrees here this morning) and most of them would respond, "Well it's Blackberry Winter, of course." Most of us learned this phrase as children. After warm shirtsleeve days, we awoke to find the house chilly and we pulled out a sweater or sweatshirt instead of a tee shirt. Upon asking why it was so cold we were invariably told it was because of blackberry winter.
The blooming of the blackberries (rubus fruticosus) in the South coincides with a weather pattern that occurs each Spring. Simply put, the air flow in the upper atmosphere is blocked over the Arctic, thus diverting the cold air over the Southern United States. This is an annual weather event and the timing may be early to late May. The blackberries bloom for three to four weeks, so invariably a cold snap will occur sometime during that time frame. Southern logic says: the blackberries are blooming and the weather turns cold. Obviously the two must be related and we have blackberry winter.
Throughout Appalachia (and in many other areas of the country) blackberries grow wild in abundance. A drive along any mountain road this time of year brings sights of the lovely blackberry plants in full bloom. Native Americans used blackberries for centuries before the early pioneers moved westward. Blackberries were an important seasonal food for the pioneers who ate the fruit but also used many parts of the plants for other purposes. To this day, blackberries are used by herbalists and others to make natural remedies. Roots are used as astringents to treat mouth ulcers and sore throats. The leaves can be crushed and used to treat thrush. Crushed blackberries, along with bits of the root are mixed with honey to make a soothing cough syrup. Tea made with the berries, roots and leaves can be used to treat diarrhea and bladder infections. The roots and leaves can be made into a poultice and placed on wounds to help stop bleeding. All parts of the blackberry plant contain a lot of tannin which seems to be the primary medicinal "active ingredient."
[NOTE: I am in no way advocating the use of blackberries to treat illness or disorders of any kind. I do however, strongly advocate a big serving of blackberry cobbler to treat your soul.]
These photographs were taken of blackberry bushes grown right along the roadside at Looking Glass Falls in our county. Just a step off the sidewalk.
Visitors pick them as soon as they ripen.
Visitors pick them as soon as they ripen.
Notice that there are five petals on each blossom
The green center of each blossom will continue to grow and ripen into a blackberry.
As a food source, blackberries are quite nutritious. They are rich in Vitamins C and E, have antioxident properties, and are a good source of fiber.
Nowadays I buy fresh blackberries from our local produce stand. But I went berry pickin' many a day in my childhood. My mother paid my brother and me a dime for each Karo Syrup can full of ripe blackberries we picked for her. She was quite a taskmaster and would penalize us for rejects such as green ones or leaves in with the ripe berries. Each pail held three quarts of berries and they had to be filled flush with the brim. We picked several pails of berries three times a week while the berries were ripe.
This photograph is from Pinterest displaying antique items
And yes, I do feel old when I see things common to my childhood classified as antique
Even before my time, these pails were used as lunch buckets for rural children.
Blackberry picking is hard work even for children. They ripen in the hot summer sun. We encountered the stinkbugs and other insects and the occasional snake. Not to mention the typical childhood quarrels and berry smashing each other. Since I am so old much of my youth pre-dates sunscreen so we came home not only scratched and bleeding from the blackberry thorns but also with sunburn on all exposed skin. But all that was forgotten once inside the house where we got our dimes, washed up and enjoyed a dish of blackberries with cream and sugar. And best of all, Mom would bake some blackberry cobbler for dessert after dinner. You might think we would be tired of blackberries by then since we had eaten them all day but you would be wrong.
I do remember asking my mother why the blackberries didn't get ripe in blackberry winter when the berry picking weather would be nicer. She gave me one of her common phrases, "In God's own time, honey. In God's own time."
My paternal grandfather had yet another use for blackberries. He made blackberry wine while the women put up the jams, jellies, and preserves. He thought that was the best medicine of all.