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Home Plant Lore Bramble


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SEPTEMBER 2012: BRAMBLE (Blackberry) (Rubus Fructicosus)

Bramble Description and Habitat:: The Bramble or Blackberry grows throughout the World and can be found in every English hedge-row. Its blossoms as well as its fruits can be found on the bush at the same time; a somewhat unusual feature, not often found in other plants. Bramble is a trailing perennial plant and the slender branches have sharp, recurved prickles. The leaves are finely haired and the white, five-petaled flowers appear from June to September. The fruit is an aggregate of black drupelets collectively called the blackberry.

Common Names: Bramble, Bumble-Kite, Bramble-Kite, Bly, Brummel, Brameberry, Scaldhead, Brambleberry, Cloudberry, Dewberry, Goutberry, Gouthead, Thimbleberry, Fingerberry, Blackbide, Moocher, Blackbutter, Lawyers, Ladies Garters.

The name of the bush is derived from the old English ‘brambel’, or ‘brymbyl’, meaning ‘prickly’. The Anglo Saxons called the Blackberry the ‘Bramble Apple’. It is found in the Bible as far back as the days of Jonathan, when he reprimanded the men of Shechem for their ingratitude to his father's house, telling them the parable of the trees choosing a king, the humble bramble being finally elected, after the olive, fig-tree and vine had refused the dignity. The ancient Greeks knew Blackberries well, and considered them a remedy for gout.

The Blackberry is known in some parts of the country as 'Scaldhead'. This is believed to be due to the eruption known as ‘scaldhead’ which arises in children who eat too much of the fruit or possibly from the curative effects of the leaves and berries to this malady of the scalp. It might also arise from the remedial effects of the leaves when applied externally to scalds. The barbed stems of the Bramble give rise to the name ‘Lawyers’ because they prevent you escaping when they have their hooks into you. The name ‘Ladies Garters’ arises from the way Bramble becomes attached to Ladies skirts.

Opinions differ as to whether there is one true Blackberry with many aberrant forms or many distinct types. Professor Babington divides the British Rubi into forty-one species, or more. Rubus rhamnifolius and R. coryfolius furnish the Blackberries of the hedges while R. coesius furnishes Dewberries. R. saxatilis, is the Roebuck-berry found in mountainous places in the North and is the badge of the McNabs, while R. chamaenorus, the Cloudberry is the badge of the McFarlanes. The double-flowering Rubus of gardens is a variety of R. fructicosus while R. odoratus is the American Bramble.

Medicinal Uses: The bark of the root and the leaves contain a considerable amount of tannin as well as Iron, Magnesium and Vitamins A and C. It has long been highly regarded as a powerful astringent and tonic proving a valuable remedy for dysentery, diarrhoea, thrush, whooping cough in the spasmodic stage, bronchitis, asthma and for feverish colds. The leaves have been used to treat burns, scalds and swellings and when chewed to cure toothache.

Blackberry leaves and roots are also a long-standing home remedy for cholera while prolonged use of the tea is also beneficial for enteritis, chronic appendicitis and stomach upset. It is also said to have expectorant properties as well. The chewing of the leaves for bleeding gums goes back to ancient times and an infusion can also be applied externally as a lotion to cure psoriasis and scaly conditions of the skin.

Blackberry jelly has been used with good effects in cases of dropsy caused by poor circulation and to treat a sore throat while the London Pharmacopoeia (1696) stated that the ripe berries of the bramble make a wonderful cordial with notable restorative abilities and would loosen the bowels! In Crusoe's ‘Treasury of Easy Medicines’ (1771) a decoction of Blackberry leaves is recommended for longstanding ulcers. Blackberry juice has also been recommended for colitis, nausea and vomiting while a lotion make from the juice has been used for sore gums in teething babies. A tea made from the roots has been used for labour pains and as a wash for rheumatism.

A hair-dye has been made by boiling the leaves in strong lye, which gives the hair a permanent soft black colour.

Additional Comments and Folklore: One of the unusual features of the British Bramble is that the barren shoots are too flexile to stand upright. These shoots bend downwards from the hedges and thickets and root their ends in the soil. The loop this formed was reputed in some counties including Gloucestershire as capable of curing hernia or rupture and the afflicted child was passed backwards and forwards through the arching bramble. Similar treatment was also used to treat whooping cough and pleurisy. The origin of this custom is difficult to trace but the passing of children through holes in the earth, rocks, and trees was once an established rite and is still practised in various parts of Cornwall. Children affected with hernia are still passed through a slit in an ash sapling before sunrise after which the slit portions are bound up and as they unite so the hernia is cured.

In Cornwall the bramble-cure is only employed for boils, the sufferer being either dragged or made to crawl beneath the rooted shoot. Cows that were said to be 'mousecrope' which means having been walked over by a shrew-mouse (an ancient way of accounting for paralysis) were dragged through the bramble-loop as a cure.

The leaves are said to be a remedy for burns and scalds while creeping under a Bramble-bush was considered a charm against rheumatism, boils and blackheads. Bramble was also supposed to give protection against all 'evil runes' if gathered at the right time of the moon. In fact the whole plant had once had a considerable popular reputation both as a medicine and as a charm for various disorders. The flowers and fruit were from very ancient times used to remedy venomous bites while the young shoots, eaten as a salad, were thought to fasten loose teeth. Gerard and other herbalists regard the bramble as a valuable astringent, good for stones and for soreness in the mouth and throat.

In Cornwall, the first blackberry of the season was said to cure warts while it was widely believed throughout Britain that eating blackberries after the first frost was unlucky. Scottish Highlanders twined Bramble with ivy and rowan to ward off witches and evil spirits. It was also believed that Bramble helped to protect the dead from the Devil and bushes were planted around graves to protect the deceased.




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