Foraging For Dewberries
I have an unusual job in which I work out in the middle of nowhere Louisiana. During my lunch hour I try to do things like run on the trails or forage in the surrounding remote park. This is both a wonderful way to get out into nature and grab some useful food!
Dewberries, what are they?
Wild dewberries (Rubus flagellaris) (Rubus trivialis) are a cousin to the blackberry that inhabits many parts of North America. Although many people refer to them as wild blackberries, they are a little different. They’re sometimes considered a weed because they can spread easily in certain areas and occupy neglected or unmaintained areas.
Where do they grow?
Dewberries do well in disturbed areas, which is the boundaries between developed or moderately developed land use by humans and wild or semi wild areas, like forest edges, creeks and drainage ditches, etc. In April through May the flowers begin their bloom. They are bright white and easily identified using any of a variety of resources (like this one).
The flowers are small and can cover a reasonably-sized patch although some trail along the forest floor and are easy to miss because they are not in one patch but among the trees and other opportunist locations.
Keep an eye out
As soon as the white flowers disappear I keep an eye out for the berries to turn. First, they are small and light green. Over time they darken, turning pale pink to red then finally to a deep purple. The darker color is a little bit more difficult to see than the flowers among the darkish green leaves and shadowy areas they occupy. This is why it is a good idea to keep an eye out for the flowers and then keep track as the season progresses.
They are not too hard to find and can pop up in different spots from one year to the next. For example, I found a patch near a pond near that was very large (maybe an acre or two) and covered in berries. The very next year there was still a patch there but much smaller while other areas near by flourished.
How I did it
Everyday for 30 minutes around noon I picked about 16 to 20 ounces in June and July. Be warned though, they do have thorns and in my area they are rife with chiggers! I wore good garden gloves, tall rain boots with very long socks, thick pants and a long sleeve shirt. While it was hot (temperatures here reach 95F) this helped keep the infuriating chiggers away while protecting me from sun and my hands from berry thorns.
Taste and Use
Dewberries are delicious but can be pretty tart, especially if picked a little early. They are also small and full of more seeds to their blackberry counterparts and. Given their tartness they still make absolutely excellent jam and homemade ice cream.
In fact, I tested both sugar and low sugar jam recipes with dewberries and found the low sugar one to be just as good (it is a preference for me though, I like less sweet jams/jellies). If using a low sugar/no sugar recipe for jam or jelly, be sure to get the correct pectin.
For a beginner in all things homesteading, this was an easy win. Definitely, make sure to get correct identification and have it verified.
What else do I need to know?
Be careful! Dewberries growing in areas that you are unfamiliar with such as a national or local park, land that looks unused or land that is next to or part of landscaping/farming (where either herbicides or pesticides have been sprayed) do not take berries from those areas. Use caution and common sense when trying to determine the area in which you can take berries, whether it is legal, how much you can take and whether the land is used in other ways.
The area I found the berries in is remote, near a shut-down prison and a long oil road that is seldom used. There are no restrictions in this area from what I can discern by calling the local park and ordinances office in taking berries. Also, if you do harvest berries, be kind to the animals that also use the area. They depend on this as food too!
For more information on foraging dewberries, particularly near my neck of the woods visit http://www.foragingtexas.com/2008/08/dewberry.html or http://www.eattheweeds.com/have-dewberry-will-travel/ . Please let me know your thoughts on dewberries and any other tips you have on starting out foraging.
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