Just ‘dew’ it.
Dewberries do it delectably! These little berries are delicious off the vine and can also be destined for drinks and dessert. Lovely purple fruits are now ripe and ready for the picking. Find this blackberry-like bramble creeping along the ground in a field or along roadsides. Blackberry-like is accurate, and is no accident; dewberry is a member of the Rubus genus of plants, which contains more than 200 species. Some familiar varieties include wineberry, raspberry and blackberry, and often the names blackberry and dewberry are used interchangeably, though they are different species.
If you are familiar with dewberry, you may remember how much this creeper annoyed you in the spring when it wrapped its bristly bits around your feet and scratched your ankles. A wonderful account describes this plant thusly.
“Dewberry is a trailing, low arching, prickle-laden plant that will shred anyone bold or foolish enough to walk through it.”
It would seem to be a love-hate relationship because now is the time to adore the fruits of this plant’s labors. Walt Whitman saw the beauty beyond the thorns. In Song of Myself, he wrote:
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven
“Running blackberry” may have been poetry in Whitman’s hands, but it is also one of the alternate names by which dewberry is known. To distinguish between the more cultivated shrubby blackberry and the creeping wild dewberry, Euell Gibbons simplified it this way, “let’s call all those borne on upright canes blackberries, and all those borne on trailing vines dewberry.”
Dewberry also goes by other aliases including sourteat, bubblekites and cloudberry root.
The origin of the name bubblekites bears a mention. Brambles are known as Brumliekites in Cumberland, England because “children eat so many that their kites or bellies rumble.”
In addition to eating the berries straight up, they can also be made into spirits. Gibbons unenthusiastically noted that dewberries “can be made into a wine that is not so bad as some homemade wines.”
Gather and eat these berries all summer and even into fall. But never consume them after the first of October. Linsey Lee, in Edible Wild Plants of Martha’s Vineyard, explains why, “If you happen to find any berries as late as October first, don’t pick them, as from that date on, according to an old English tale, the Devil spits on them.”
Besides the berries, other plant parts can be useful and healthful. Dewberry plant leaves are used for tea which is believed to be good for treating “sores in the mouth or secret parts.” Another herbalist noted that this plant can be employed as a “powerful remedy against the poison of the most venomous serpents.”
And finally, though it seems unlikely, reports include one that suggests another creative use. Take “large young leaves of some (Rubus) species to ‘make a fairly good toilet paper substitute.’” That would no doubt rub you the wrong way!
Don’t be put off by all the lore. When you pluck these juicy berries (especially when they are still covered in morning dew) they are literally “de-vine”; and a blackberry by any other name will still taste as sweet.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.