By Melissa Wynn

   Late August is the time for wild blackberry picking in our neck of the woods and an excellent time of the year to wander outdoors. Wild blackberries are delicious, nutritious and plentiful throughout Mountain Valley Living territory. Wild blackberries are ripe and sweet when they turn a deep purple and are full of juice. If you plan to make jam out of the berries remember to pick a few red berries that are not quite ripe as they hold more natural pectin and will help your jam to better set.

When planning a serious picking adventure there are several ways you need to be prepared.

1. Be safe and legal. When foraging for wild blackberries always make sure that you are on lands open to the public where berry picking is allowed. Never pull to the side of a busy highway where parking is prohibited. Always get permission to cross any private land.

2. Dress for the occasion. Wild blackberry bushes spread into dense brambles and are covered with sharp thorns that snag on nearly everything, so long sturdy jeans that you don’t mind staining are a must. Good shoes or hiking boots are needed to protect your feet and ankles from the thorns and allow for wading in a creek, river or lake. The biggest, juiciest berries often grow right at the water’s edge and picking from the water can offer the richest bounty. Long sleeves are best to avoid scratches and again, choose a shirt you don’t mind snagging and staining. A hat to protect you from a long day in the sun and you are dressed for berry picking success.

3. Tools of the trade. Wild blackberry bushes grow thick and tall when they have something to climb so getting to the fruit in the inner and upper parts of the bush can be quite a challenge without a bit of help. A long stick about shoulder height with a natural hook can double the amount of berries you can access in some of the thicker patches. Use it to raise vines to get the berries on the underside and to pull vines closer when the berries are just out of reach. A commercial “grabber” tool  can also work for holding tangled vines out of the way to access the deeper regions of brambly patch.

4.  Protect your harvest. Choosing a good container for picking can mean the difference between a sad spill and a plentiful gathering, especially if you pick while wading in the water. Plastic bags may seem like a good idea but lack structure, snag easily and tend to be a juice leaking mess in no time at all. Your container should be sturdy, solid and able to hold the amount of berries you plan to gather before returning to the car. A clean plastic milk jug with a handle and the lid make a great choice and come in a variety of sizes. The narrow neck will mean losing fewer berries if you slip or drop your container. Secure the lid when traveling between bushes. Tie the jug around your neck with a laniard or strong yarn to free up your hands for picking and managing vines.

5. Be prepared to eat or freeze your harvest right away. Ripe wild berries only last a day so they need to be eaten or frozen within 2 or 3 days of picking. If you plan to make jams or pies, berries can placed in a freezer bag and frozen in a single lump to use all at once later. If you want individual berries for floating in drinks or mixing into muffins, place berries in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze for 24 hours before placing them in a freezer bag for long term freezing. Add them to your muffin batter or beverages in the frozen state and don’t leave them in the freezer bag to thaw.

Wild blackberries are a favorite late summer treat courtesy of mother nature. Plan your harvesting adventure and the tasty rewards.