This week’s plant for #WildEdibleWednesday is the Rubus subspecies R. caesius, R. trivialis, and R. flagellaris. We know them as Dewberries. Here at SARCRAFT, we talk a lot about wild edibles vs. “wild preferables” or “wild enjoyables.” Some plants that we’ve covered in the past, while they’ll keep you alive and might even be highly nutritious, really just taste awful. But then there are those that are not only passable, but delicious. They’re rare treats that can only be foraged, and can’t be bought. Hickory nuts, chanterelle mushrooms, and huckleberries fall into that category… as do dewberries.
Dewberries look a lot like blackberries, which they should, since they’re in the same genus. A perennial trailing vine, dewberries are what’s traditionally referred to as a bramble. Depending on subspecies, they’re 4’-15’ long, and can grow up to 2’ high. They normally ramble along the ground, but will climb when given the opportunity. They have groups of three leaves, heavily veined, with serrated edges. Their flowers are about an inch across, white, and five-petaled, with a sweet, inoffensive scent. Oh, and they’re covered in thorns – stems, leaves, even the bases of the flowers. Basically everything but the fruit. Dewberries are unique in their family in that they have distinctly male and female plants – depending on subspecies, they need both to pollinate. Dewberries are native to most of the northern hemisphere – R. caesius, the Common Dewberry, is a European native. R. trivialis and R. flagellaris, the Southern Dewberry and American Dewberry are American. The good news is, this stuff only matters if you’re a taxonomist. The differences between these species are minor and they all taste the same, which is what we really care about, right? Like other compound berries such as blackberries or raspberries, dewberries have no deadly or toxic mimics. They can be found in a wide variety of soil conditions – I’ve seen dewberries flourishing on patches of bare red clay that wouldn’t support anything else. They are an open ground plant – they require full sun and you won’t find them in the woods. Since they don’t flower until their second or third year, you won’t find them in well-maintained lawns or pastures, or any other area that’s mowed regularly. The best places to forage dewberries are the messy ones. They love abandoned home sites, rural roadsides, abandoned fields, former construction sites, woods edges, power line right-of-ways, and generally any other place called waste areas. They’re easiest to spot when they flower in late April and early May, so it’s wise to go ahead and scout for them then, mark the spot, and come back later.
Dewberries’ prime use is, of course, as an edible. They are superb, and arguably better than blackberries. In prime conditions, the vines will be loaded down with gallons of the berries, ripe for the picking. They can be considered a superfood – they are loaded with antioxidants and bioflavonoids, high in vitamin C, and rich in fiber. As a wilderness survival food, they’re a great energy booster as they’re high in simple sugars. They’re a great morale booster as well – if you’ve been getting by on insects, tree bark, and bitter greens, a few handfuls of delicious berries will certainly improve your spirits. At home, you can use them for anything you’d use blackberries for. They make an excellent jelly or jam, they’re good for cobblers, pies, and other baked goods, they’re great in smoothies or milkshakes, and they’re also awesome by themselves! A handful of fresh dewberries on top of a bowl of vanilla ice cream is pretty tough to beat.
While its edible uses are obvious, dewberries are medicinal as well. A tea made from the leaves has traditionally been used as a digestive remedy to ease indigestion, stomach ulcers, and diarrhea. The whole plant is an astringent and can be used accordingly. And the root is known for being a stimulant and tonic as well.
Right now is prime dewberry season. They show up a little earlier than the blackberries and usually last about a week or two if you’re lucky. So get out there and get picking! We promise you won’t regret it. What’s your favorite dewberry recipe? Tell us in the comments!