In praise of dewberries…
In praise of dewberries
Sometimes we mow them, sometimes we hoe them, but every year…we eat them. Dewberries (Rubus spp.) are a late spring/early summer treat for us here, though we often have to control them in both in the garden and among the fruit trees. Dewberries are the small, native cousin of the cultivated blackberry. They grow over much of the eastern half of North America, covering roadsides, ditches, fence rows, and just about everywhere else they can get a little sunlight and moisture.
They’ve scraped us, made us cuss, and just generally annoyed us, growing in places where (in our opinion) they don’t belong. But they do belong – their resilience and determination showing on millions of acres across the continent. They may be weeds…but we kind of like them.
The dewberries themselves are loved by wildlife – birds, deer, raccoons, rabbits and many others – and by people, who have enjoyed their tangy/tart/sweet flavor for millennia. On our fields, we allow the wild, tangled mass of berry brambles to grow in uncultivated areas (like fence rows) so that we can harvest those berries in season. The cool thing about dewberries is that they don’t need you to do anything. If you leave them alone and you can tolerate their thorny messiness, then they will bless you with berries each and every year. We have a field that we mow in late spring only after the dewberries have ripened and we’ve picked them!
Unlike most other blackberry-type plants, some dewberry species have separate male and female plants. As a rule they almost always grow together into a large thicket if left untrained. It’s virtually impossible to tell a difference between male and female plants. There are numerous species spread across the country.
Dewberries were grown as a commercial crop in the early 1900’s through the 1940’s, when they fell out of favor. European explorers to North America carried the dewberry back to Europe, where it was grown on a limited scale. Shakespeare mentioned the dewberry in a Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Dewberries grow on year-old canes, which means you can harvest the berries and then mow down the vines, allowing the new vines to grow over the summer. The berries and flowers are edible off the plant. The leaves can be steeped to make a tea.
Truth be told, our favorite thing to do with dewberries is make this cobbler: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2007/08/the_great_cobbl/
Dewberries are part of the wild bounty that is available for anyone who looks for it. Just make sure you that you wear gloves if you go picking!