Summers in California are marked by hands with deep purple liquid running along palm lines and in between the fingers, dripping off the sides and trailing down the wrists, tiny brown hairs stuck to fingers and palms. Every time I look at a pair of blackberry-stained hands, joy spreads through my body and ripens my smile.
The first time Dad showed me a wild blackberry plant growing along the bank of California’s Sacramento River, I was wonderstruck. That tasty fruit that I’ve enjoyed so often at home: here?! Before then, I don’t think I really understood that fruit- and vegetable-producing plants were wild–or “formerly” wild–beings. I had no idea that one could go for a stroll along the river or in the forest and stumble upon innumerable edible treasures. I remember feeling like I had (finally) entered a fairytale world. Wild, unruly plants bearing little black fruits full of juice that colors your hands and lips and coats your throat: this was the stuff of magic!
Two types of blackberries call California their home: the native Pacific blackberry (Rubus ursinus–see featured image) and the “invasive” Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus–image right). The Pacific blackberry is somewhat more delicate– both the plant itself and its deliciously sweet fruit. The Himalayan, which is in fact native to Western Europe, is termed “invasive” because it plants unbelievably strong roots and grows in massive thick and thorny bushes, crowding out diverse native vegetation, including the Pacific blackberry.
In either case, it is a pleasure to live somewhere where one can interact with these plants–I do believe they are magic. I knew it the second I tasted one of those wild blackberries growing along the Sacramento River. The way it paints one’s skin, and the magical momentary zing! one feels as the little fruits burst in one’s mouth, struck by a spell of sensuous delight.
And in either case, the blackberry holds the magic of resiliency. Despite wildfires and a terribly imposing cousin, the Pacific blackberry persists in its delicate, sweet style. And ever so assertive, the Himalayan blackberry grows as it pleases. It too can survive intense wildfires–even when the fire has scorched the entire plant above the soil, the roots and rhizomes can regenerate. Without fail, each summer both produce swollen, juicy seed capsules that nourish and remedy Californian creatures. Even as fires here in Northern California rage on, the resilience of the blackberry promises us something sweet to look forward to.
Thus, the blackberry plants are a seemingly endless supply of life and joy. The birds and the bees drink nectar from their blossoms. The deer and the opossums chew away on the leaves and berries. Sometimes, the humans will use its leaves to make compresses for wounds or teas for tummy issues. Most fondly, the humans pick the berries off with their fingers and pop them in their mouths–staining fingers and lips with that deep purple. Humans will save some berries, and coax the berry into different medicinal forms. Take, for example, the medicine of blackberry pie, which does wonders for inducing cheerfulness. Few could not experience a childlike joy upon smelling, looking at, tasting a fresh slice of blackberry pie.
Author: Madi Whaley.
Madi Whaley is a plant lover from California, involved in food justice and zero waste initiatives in her community.