Blackberries are one of our most popular free foods and many people still forage for them on commons or by roadsides if they don't grow them in their own gardens.
The fruit are just beginning to ripen on bushes near where I live, in London, but you might want to leave them for a week or so before gathering any to cook. According to Manx folklore, the first blackberries of the season should not be eaten but instead should be left for the fairy folk. If you ignore this advice, any others you pick will be full of grubs, according to legend. Whether that is true on not, early blackberries are certainly too sharp to eat raw.
Folklore also says that you should not pick blackberries after St Michaelmas Day, September 29. According to Christian mythology, that is supposed to be the anniversary of the date Lucifer was chucked out of heaven and he likes to mark the occasion by peeing over everyone's blackberry bushes.
Whatever the truth may be behind those two tales, the sweetest, juiciest blackberries are found between mid August and mid September. Always ask permission from the owner before picking fruit or flowers on private land or in public parks. Rare plants and should never be picked, but blackberries are hardly endangered so it is acceptable to take a few for your own use if they are growing wild.
As well as being delicious in pies, cakes and jam, the fruit can be made into wine or simply eaten raw. Always wash the berries carefully, especially if you have picked them at roadsides or along paths. Even if the devil hasn't used them as a toilet, dogs or other animals may have done so!
In medicine, herbalists since ancient Greece have used the berries and leaves to treat various conditions including diarrhoea, sore throats and gout.
Blackberries and brambles are sometimes used in spells of protection. In practical terms, the prickly bushes are an excellent burglar deterrent if you grow them around your property. They can also be used to keep animals from damaging tender young plants.
Do not eat plants, berries or flowers unless you are certain that you have identified them correctly. Always seek expert advice before taking herbal remedies. Consult your GP if you suffer severe or prolonged symptoms.