How I Use and Preserve Blackberries From My Forest Garden

Learn how to make the most of these abundant and delicious berries.

blackberries growing in the wild

Jason Jones Travel Photography / Getty Images

Blackberries are such an easy plant to grow. These brambles get a bad rap, but they are an extremely useful plant for many regions and climate zones. Not only do they provide an abundance of fruit in late August and September, and sometimes even into October where I live in Scotland, but they also give great shelter and habitat for a range of wildlife.

We have wild blackberries growing in abundance along hedgerows in the farmland around our property and along paths nearby, where I forage on walks. But I have also chosen to add a thornless blackberry variety to my forest garden that I chop back dramatically each year—and I am very glad I did so because the fruits are big, juicy, and delicious.

Today, just as the bulk of the blackberries here begin to ripen, I thought I would share some of the main ways I like to use and preserve my blackberries each year. Perhaps this will inspire you to make the most of the blackberries growing in your garden or close to where you live, rather than seeing these often-vigorous plants as a nuisance in your space.

Eating Blackberries Raw

Blackberries can be rather tart for some tastes. But ours are just sweet enough to use fresh in a range of different ways. I like to have them with yogurt or oatmeal in the morning and add them to seasonal salads. A simple blackberry, spinach, and baby leaf chard salad with nuts and a balsamic dressing, for example, is one that we enjoy.

Cooking With Blackberries

As you might expect, our go-to recipes for blackberries are all the usual suspects—pies, muffins, and other baked goods, as well as a crumble with apples and blackberries combined beneath a sweet and crispy oat topping.

But we also use blackberries in savory recipes. For example, I use a blackberry glaze on vegetable or nut roasts, and occasionally on fish or as part of a sweet-and-sour sauce on vegetables or local free-range chicken.

Freezing Blackberries

Blackberries are not all ready at once. What I tend to do (as they will really only last 2-3 days in the fridge) is freeze them in batches to process in bulk once the majority of the harvest is in. That means I don't have to worry about them during the busy time when we are harvesting lots of plums and the first of our apples, too.

If you have the space, you could happily freeze blackberries for later use. But you might not have the space to store them in a freezer longer-term. And that is where canning comes in.

Canning Blackberry Preserves

By far the majority of my blackberry harvest won't be eaten right away. So, I can a range of blackberry recipes—from blackberry syrup and jam, to spiced blackberry jelly, ready-made blackberry pie mix, and mixed preserves such as apple, blackberry, and cinnamon chutney.

I can these in a water bath canner. Though many here will simply store preserves like jams in sterilized jars, I prefer to do the extra processing stage to be on the safe side. Blackberries are a berry that stands up well to the canning process.

I also can some whole fresh blackberries in apple juice (since we have a lot of home-pressed juice available at the right time of year). I make a few jars of this so I can enjoy them with my breakfast and also in baking through the winter months.

The color leaches out a little, so the fruits end up looking more like raspberries. But they retain their texture and flavor, with just a little sweetening from the apple juice and no added sugar. I sometimes make a sourdough loaf with some of these canned blackberries added in.

Whether you decide to forage for wild blackberries in your area or grow some in your garden, it might be time to revisit this common berry and think about how you can use and preserve this fruit to enjoy over the rest of the year.

Incidentally, the young shoots can also be peeled and eaten in the spring. So, if your blackberry plant tries to expand beyond bounds, this is one way to keep them in check and get more food in the process. 

You can also make a dye from the fruits, and the stems can be used for fiber to make twine. This is a plant that will just keep on giving, even without much time or attention from you.