Wild Black Raspberries

blackras2We have wild black raspberries growing in our yard (yes, we are very lucky).  There is one good-sized patch near the front door and another one buried in the hillside that leads down to the driveway with a few canes scattered here and there in the woods.  None of these areas produce large amounts of berries, as they are not managed by us at all; they are overgrown, must compete with weeds, opportunistic vines, other brambly-type bushes (that’s the technical term), and it is not the easiest foraging (the amount above took over an hour to harvest), as there are sharp thorns on raspberry bushes and some of the bushes are buried so deeply in a thicket of brambles that I just can’t access them.  But still… wild black raspberries. I can literally pop out the door in my bathrobe and slippers, walk 10 feet, and forage for my breakfast.  That just rocks.

According to Steve Brill, in his forager’s guide Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants, the black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) plant consists of arching thorny canes, sometimes 10 feet in length, with three-parted palmate compound leaves which are sharply double-toothed and have white-hairy undersides.  Raspberries grow in a variety of landscapes: in dense, wooded thickets, along roadsides, in disturbed soil (the edge of a forest, alongside railroad tracks, abandoned lots), and near fresh water (and in our back yard!).2009-07-101

Black raspberries can be distinguished from blackberries by the cone that is left behind (and the resulting hollow in the raspberry) when you harvest the berry; blackberries do not have this cone/hollow.  Also, around here, blackberries are not even close to ripe yet; they will ripen in August, but now are tight, green clusters of berries.  The tiny alpine strawberries are the first berries we see each summer, then the black raspberries, then the wild red raspberries, then the blackberries.  Both black raspberries and blackberries start out as red berries yet are only ripe when they turn a deep purple black, and are easily removed from the bush (if you have to pull, they are not ripe enough yet).  So how can you tell an unripe black raspberry from a ripe red raspberry?  Well, if you look carefully you will almost always see a couple of black raspberries scattered amongst the unripe red black raspberries; all the berries do not ripen at the same time.  Also, you could just eat one; unripe black raspberries are very sour; ripe red raspberries are sweet.thimble

Also noted in Steve Brill’s guide is that the Goldenseal berry is the only close lookalike (to a red raspberry), however the plant part looks completely different, with single-lobed leaves, no thorns and no woody canes.  Goldenseal berries can be poisonous in large quantities, so always be sure of your plant ID before eating foraged food.

Goldenseal berry - poisonous!

Goldenseal berry - poisonous!

In the last week, I’ve been able to forage about a handful of berries a day; I eat some fresh and individually quick freeze some for later in the year.  So far, I’ve got not quite a quart of berries.  Not much, some would say, for a week’s worth of effort;  but the berries are so good – they bear absolutely no resemblance to the bland, soggy, tasteless fruit packed into plastic clamshells and sold in the supermarket. And in February, when I thaw some of these berries to make muffins, or pancakes, or a tart, I will be transported back to these warm summer days, the sun shining on my shoulders, bees buzzing, the deer and I, contentedly foraging from the same thicket of berries.  It will be like magic.


  1. Kathy

    Hi Kaela,

    I wanted to say how much I have been enjoying your blog. It really is amazing how much you not only create, but share with everyone. Alison turned me onto it about a month ago and I just wanted to let you know your blog has quickly become a fav of mine. Thanks!


  2. localkitchen

    Hi Kathy,

    What a nice compliment, thank you! Glad you are enjoying the blog – I’m having fun writing it, but it’s always nice to know that someone out there is having fun reading it. 🙂


  3. Manjari

    I just wandered on in when I was searching for Goldenseal, but then got drawn in to this delicious article about black raspberries. Very nicely done! It stirs my desire to be in a place such as yours where I could forage for berries. Lucky you!

  4. Lana

    We have wild black raspberries growing along our lane and some by the creek. If I have time I can get 2 of those 1- gallon ice cream buckets full. I like to make jelly, but my family loves the pies. I can’t say I am fond of all the seeds, but the flavor is magnificent! Nothing else compares in the supermarket!
    I’ve never come across goldenseal – is that a common berry? We are in midwest.
    Happy picking!

  5. stephen

    Is there any way i could get you to send me some seeds? I would gladly pay for shipping.

    I have been looking everywhere for Rubus occidentalis seeds!

    Best regards.

  6. Hi Stephen,

    Yield seems to be very low this year; the heat maybe? Or maybe because I was not home to cover the bushes with netting and prevent the birds from stealing all the berries.

    Nevertheless, I’m sure I can harvest a few berries and collect the seeds for you. Send your mailing address to: localkitchen AT yahoo.com and I will do my best.


  7. Pingback: Black Raspberry, Walnut, and Honey Rosewater Yogurt Parfaits | Healthy Green Kitchen

  8. Carlos

    I just come across some black Raspberries bushes in my back yard this afternoon. I am so excited :)! Your blog was very helpful. Thank you!

  9. kylietry

    we have a large bunch on our land, they thrive even now they compete with the weeds. my issue is that we really cant get to most of the fruit. my second issue is mosquitoes, large groups of them live in and around the bushes. can any one help with these problems thanks.

  10. Jen

    I was so excited because I had what looked like raspberries growing in my yard and I love raspberries. But then they turned black and I was disappointed. But now, I feel like a lucky person to find out that they are wild black raspberries and from what everyone is saying, they are wonderful! I just have to get up the nerve to try them now! They have all the thorns on the canes, they have the hollows, and they look like your picture. Thanks for posting this great information!

  11. Will

    I just discovered that we have lots of wild black raspberry plants in the back of our house. They are by the bank of the gully between our house and the golf course. There are some very tall but no berries. The question is are all plants bare fruits? I am planning to relocate them in the fall. Thanks

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