The songbirds planted wild black raspberries along the southern side of one of our windbreaks. I let the canes stay because they are not in the way and they produce delicious fruit most years. Right now is prime black raspberry picking. I’ve been gathering the berries to make a batch of jelly.
Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) are not as well known as their relatives, raspberries and blackberries. All are from the rose family. These are not actual berries, but aggregate fruit forming around a central fleshy stem called a torus. Black raspberries are a separate plant and not the result of raspberries and blackberries interbreeding. The earliest of the three fruit to ripen, black raspberries are not tolerant of drought. Just a few hot, dry days will cause the berries to dry up and be lost. Some years we get no berries due to a dry week in early July. This year the rain has been abundant, as is the berry crop.
The fruit starts out small and white, and rapidly ripens from pink, to red to dark purple-black. A distinctive whitish, waxy quality is present between the individual cells of the aggregate fruit when ripe. These are a drier fruit than red raspberries, lower in sugar and very high in healthy antioxidants. So rich in oxygen free radical fighters, in fact, that black raspberries are showing promise as cancer preventatives. The dark pigment is also an excellent source of anthocyanins, potent anti-inflammatories.
I’m sure I appreciate the health benefits of eating black raspberries, but I enjoy the flavor more. These are my favorite wild berries. They are rarer than raspberries or blackberries, and we are lucky to have so many growing around our place.
The fruit is held on long, thorny canes that develop one year then bear the next. Mature black raspberry canes have a unique purplish-red color. The plant likes partial shade since it is sensitive to dry conditions. It is also more susceptible to mosaic virus that its relatives and is therefore more difficult to cultivate for production. Oregon is a major producer of black raspberries.
There are two easy ways to tell the difference between black raspberries and blackberries. First, the raspberries ripen much earlier, in July. Blackberries are nearly autumn fruit. Second, the torus is left on the plant when raspberries are picked, but comes off with the fruit in blackberries.