Blackberry: A Tale of Two Fruits

Pictured is one of the plants that provided our morning meal of common blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis) fruits.  These fruits are delicious, sweet, crunchy (yes, crunchy, read on), and extremely nourishing.  I don’t know many people who dislike blackberries.  Though, we are finding it easier and easier to gather them in popular places—it seems people don’t want to go through the effort of gathering.  As a result, many children are not learning to find and gather treasures such as blackberries (but are learning the “hidden moves” on various video games).  The next time you go to purchase blackberries in the store, here are some items to consider. 

Antioxidants are compounds that help combat damage caused by charged molecules (i.e., free radicals) in your body.  Free radicals promote cancer, premature aging, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, gastrointestinal disorders, and a host of other maladies through damage they cause to membranes, DNA, and the interior of blood vessels.   Wild blackberries are rich in polyphenol antioxidants.  Comparisons of antioxidant content have been made between wild and cultivated blackberries (I’m aware of two separate studies).  In both cases, wild blackberries were significantly higher in plant compounds that protect against free radical damage.  Wild blackberries possessed, on average, 25% more free-radical scavenging ability than cultivated ones (and some wild forms had nearly 80% more antioxidant capacity than the average cultivated blackberry!).  This means that wild blackberries (along with other wild foods) better support our immune system and help keep us free of chronic disease.

If you compare wild blackberries against cultivated blackberries, you will notice two obvious differences (at least with most cultivated forms):  sweetness and juiciness.  Cultivated blackberries generally taste a little sweeter (that is not to say wild blackberries aren’t phenomenal, they are, but there is a difference).  This is the result of more sugar (and less fiber) in the cultivated version.  Also, the cultivated blackberries are more juicy (meaning, again, less fiber), and each individual drupe that makes up the collective fruit is often larger.  So, cultivated blackberries provide more calories with less fiber than wild ones.  You might say “so what.” Well, I would respond with “fiber has the ability to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as do other aspects of healthy lifestyle, benefits gastrointestinal tract health, has a role in preventing colon cancer, may assist with preventing hemorrhoids and kidney stones, and helps detoxify the body.”   So, in summary, cultivated blackberries supply more calories with less nutrition, meaning that they cannot protect your health in ways wild forms can.

Nowadays, most people don’t like to go through the effort of collecting wild fruits—they would rather purchase the cultivated versions.  Unfortunately, the two kinds are not the same.  In addition to the aforementioned items (above), pH values differ between wild and cultivated blackberries, with cultivated ones being more acidic.  The wild ones provide more nutrition and more protective compounds in a time when protective compounds are needed more than ever due to a variety of factors, including environmental toxins, chronic stress in the work place, carcinogenic materials in our clothing, furniture, paints, and food containers, and so on.  People also overlook the fresh air, exposure to the elements, and movement that comes with wild harvesting (as compared with the stale air, artificial lighting, and more robotic movement experienced in grocery store isles).  They also consider the gym a suitable replacement for outdoor movement, but the gym is another indoor environment with a long list of health hazards (e.g., VOCs, flame retardants, carcinogens, artificial lighting, fluoridated water).   Rewilding your diet and lifestyle has tremendous benefits to you.  Blackberries serve as another example of the differences between wild and domesticated forms.  Our wild blackberries are crunchier (because of less juice around the individual seeds), but I’ll take them and express gratitude for the way they maintain health.