Autumn is here and the hedgerows are full of wild blackberries here in the UK. These wild blackberries are usually smaller than those grown commercially and sold in supermarkets, however, they can be more tasty than supermarket blackberries, particularly when they are picked when ripe and eaten when they are completely fresh. Technically, the blackberry is what is known as a drupelet, which is a cluster of fruits, much like a miniature bunch of grapes.
The blackberry belongs to the Rosaceae family, which also includes berries such as raspberry and dewberry. Their formal name is Rubus fruticosus, but they are also known as brambles and brambleberry. The medicinal nature of blackberries dates back more than 2,000 years. The Greeks and Romans used blackberries as a medicine to treat various ailments. In fact, during the eighteenth century, the Greeks used blackberries to for treating gout. This practice spread throughout Europe and so the blackberry also became known as the ‘gout berry’. There is an increasing amount of evidence that shows the therapeutic capabilities of blackberries for various conditions and diseases in the world today.
Blackberries are high in vitamin C and a 100 gram serving will provide approximately 23 mg of vitamin C. They are also a rich source of vitamin A, B, E and K, as well as folate, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese. In addition, they are an excellent source of dietary fibre, with a 100 gram serving providing 5.3 grams of fibre. Not only are blackberries rich in vitamins and minerals, but they have one of the highest antioxidant contents of any food. Indeed, it is the anthocyanins in blackberries that give them their glossy, dark colour. It is these anti-oxidants that scavenge the free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a major role in the aging process and chronic diseases. Also under the anti-oxidant umbrella, the blackberry contains lots of flavonoid phyto-chemicals such as ellegic acid, tannins, gallic acid, quercetin and catechins. These anti-oxidants all help protect against aging, inflammation, cancer and other chronic diseases.
A study was conducted on 12 fruits (mango, feijoa, elderberry, cranberry, blackcurrant, blackberry, red raspberry, strawberry, green grapes, plum, pear and black grapes) for their effect on inflammatory bowel disease. The results showed that these fruits, particularly blackberries, could help to regulate oxidative stress and inflammation in cells. In fact, blackberry and feijoa showed the strongest anti-inflammatory response in these experiments.(1)
There is also an increasing amount of research on berries and their cancer fighting properties, particularly blackberries. They are rich in cyanidin 3-glucoside (C3G), ellagic acid, lignans and the flavonoid myricetin, which are all substances known for their anti-cancer properties. Blackberries are high in anthocyanins and C3G makes up 80 per cent of the anthocyanin in blackberries; studies have shown that C3G helps protect against the development of cancer, as well as having cancer fighting effects.(2) Ellagic acid, another potent ingredient in blackberries, has been shown to act as a chemo-preventive agent, inhibiting carcinogen bio-activation and cancer cell growth.(3) The synergy of these phyto-chemicals in blackberries may be an effective preventative measure against cancer. It is early days on this research, but it is well worth keeping an eye on developments here.
Tips on Buying and Storing
The season for blackberries generally lasts from June until September. When shopping for blackberries, look for fresh berries that are bright, shiny and completely black. It is best to avoid unripe blackberries, which will be more purple in appearance, and also overripe, bruised, damaged or mushy berries. To store, place them inside the refrigerator where they stay fresh for 4–5 days. To get the most nutrients and the most benefit, blackberries are best consumed in their natural state. Freezing them also preserves the nutrients, but this may change the texture.
If picking berries on verges, pick only the fully black blackberries and avoid the under-ripe berries that are red or purple. These under-ripe berries will not ripen further once picked. Good blackberries will only need a light pull to come off the plant. When you get your blackberries home, soak them for a good half hour in water just before you intend to use them, and then rinse them well before eating or using them in recipes. If you are not planning to use the berries for a few days, then it is best to refrigerate them unwashed to avoid spoiling them. If you want to freeze them, give them a wash, put them in a container or air tight bag and in the freezer they go.
1. Anti-inflammatory activity of fruit fractions in vitro, mediated through toll-like receptor 4 and 2 in the context of inflammatory bowel disease. Nutrients. 2014;6(11):5265-5279. doi:10.3390/nu6115265.
2. Anthocyanin-Rich Blackberry Extract Suppresses the DNA-Damaging Properties of Topoisomerase I and II Poisons in Colon Carcinoma Cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2011;59(13):6966-6973. doi:10.1021/jf200379c.
3. Research progress on the anticarcinogenic actions and mechanisms of ellagic acid. Cancer Biol Med. 2014;11(2):92-100. doi:10.7497/j.issn.2095-3941.2014.02.004.
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