Photo and article by Donna Iverson
On a recent bike ride along the Lakeshore Trail, I spied a large bush of black raspberries. It was the first wild black raspberry bush I had seen in many a year.
There were only a few ripe black berries to pick but I considered it a major treat anyway. They are tastier than their red raspberry cousins. No doubt about that.
Black raspberries are not easy to come by. They aren’t usually available at farmers markets or grocery stores, because they are not easy to ship. And not many people grow them in their gardens.
Once home and having savored them, I checked online to see if black raspberry plants were available at local nurseries. None were found although if I’m wrong, I hope someone will point me in the right direction. The plants can be ordered and shipped from out-of-state nurseries, however.
Wild black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) have a short growing season. Native to North America, they are often found in waste areas along streams, like the one I discovered near Beidler Creek adjacent to Heritage Landing on Muskegon Lake.
If you are foraging, there are no poisonous lookalikes to worry about. The only berry they might be confused with are blackberries, and both are safe to eat when you find them. While the two berries are related, they are from different horticultural families, with black raspberries belonging to the rose family.
The name raspberry harks back to the Old English word, rasp, which translates as rough berry. Although it also may have been derived from the German word raspoie, meaning thicket or from raspise, meaning rose wine. Other names for the plant include scotch cap, black cap and bear’s eye raspberry.
The inky-black color comes from the chemical Anthocyanin which is believed to strengthen blood vessels. Native to our area, black raspberries also contain polyphenols, and high levels of Vitamin C.
If you do decide to grow them in your yard or garden, they can reach 10 feet tall with 6 foot long stems. They need watering and annual pruning and are susceptible to disease. In the fall, when the berries are gone, the leaves will turn a glowing red. Deer will eat them. They are also invasive. But who cares ??