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The Mystery of the Running Blackberry: How nature teaches lessons about learning and the benefit of plants

Image from SurvivalIQ Handbook: Edible and medicinal plants---raspberry, blackberry and dewberry

The bush along the bike path to school first sprouted bright red berries about a month ago, right when the rolie polies came out in force. My children, naturalists of course, spotted them immediately.

They also immediately wanted to put them in their mouths.

"Raspberries!" they shouted, grabbing at the bush.

"Wait!" I said, uselessly.

"Ouch!" they said, stabbed by thorns.

"YUCK!" they said, spitting out the partially chewed berries, and as much taste as they could.

"Sigh," I said, as usual wondering when they'd ever learn to listen to me and why the entire myth of natural consequences began.

"Step back from the bush," I said, "Close your mouths and open your ears."

They hesitated, and looked back at the bush.

"Before you grab at any plant or bush, you need to know what it is. Some plants can make you sick or give you a rash."

"I know what that bush is!" they said, "It's a raspberry!"

My children are like most children: they believe that what they assume is what they know, and they also believe they know it all. "I don't need tap lessons," Patience said to me the other day, "I already know how to tap, see?" She shuffled her feet. I sighed and tried to explain, for the 10 millionth time, that nobody is born knowing how to do anything. We all spend our lives learning and that usually means learning from someone who does know, for example, in a class. Patience gets it now and again, especially when it comes to reining in her perfectionism, so I have hope.

"That's not a raspberry plant," I said.

"It looks like a raspberry plant!" they said, betrayed.

"Does it? Did the berries taste like raspberries?" They narrowed their eyes, looking for the trick. "Look at the berries, they are smooth. Raspberries have little hairs. And are sweet, not yucky."

The children pondered.

"Hmm," said Patience, "That's true. They are also harder, and a different color of red."

"True," I said.

"So what is it!"

"I don't know," I said, "But I know who to ask."

I believe it's important to live by my words, and admit when I don't know something, then model how to find out. So when we got home, I called my neighbor. I described the bush and its fruit, and she immediately knew what I meant.

"Dewberries," she said, "They're coming ripe now. My daughter and her friend picked so many in the woods today we have enough for jam and pie! You can find wild bushes all over the place."

"How are they to eat?" I asked.

"Not as sweet as raspberries, about on par with blackberries. It's all the same family," she said, "But don't eat the red ones. Dewberries turn black when they're ripe."

I told the children what I'd learned, and we did a little more research online. Dewberries are also called running blackberries. The children loved that---a plant that runs. They giggled and joked. Also, we learned that most of the plant is edible. Brewing the leaves into tea treats diarrhea. You can eat the shoots (if you peel them) and the fruit.

"That's so interesting," Patience said, "I never knew you could make drinks from plants, or that you could eat more than fruit off of plants!"

The next day, after school, we stopped by the dewberry bush and looked for ripe black berries. "Here's one!" we kept calling to each other, this time mindful of thorns as we picked, and selecting only high berries. Leaving low berries means less chance of well, animal urine, among other things, and also makes it easier for birds and squirrels to get fruit, too.

This is more advice my friend---the real naturalist---provided.

Our excitement around the bush attracted other children, and we told them what the bush was and what we were doing. They dared each other to try the berries, and the brave ones reported the taste the others, who also stepped up to try it.

"Dewberries," they said to one another. "Watch out for thorns!" "It's like a vine, more than a bush," some observed. "It's sour!" "No, it's delicious!" "Only the black ones!" "Watch out for that spider web!" "Don't hurt the spider or web, they eat mosquitos!"

I thought about how my friend and others worry about kids being so separated from nature. It's a small thing, one thing, but in that moment, kids were right in with nature, seeing what it offers. And that made me smile.

That's also why my daughters and I were so upset yesterday when we walked our bikes to the dewberry bush and found it...gone. Chopped down at the base.

"It was a weed," the landscaping guy said, "We didn't plant it there."

I wondered if he or his crew had ever gone dewberry picking in the early summer, in the morning, on the way to school. I thought that maybe if he had, he would have carefully skirted the bush, leaving it for the kids and woodland creatures.

Later, we'll go look in other spots and try to find a new dewberry bush. An adventure to follow a mystery, solved.

Note: You'll notice it's Wednesday, and I have no Hump Day Hmm. I just didn't get it pulled together this week. If you have interest and/or suggestions, please send them my way. I'll try to get it going again next week if you like. :)

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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SciFi Dad said…
That was an excellent story, Julie. Really, just from the naturalist stuff, to the admission that parents don't know everything, it was perfect.

It's too bad that the landscapers took the "weed" down.
PunditMom said…
Yes, PunditGirl believes she can already do a triple toe loop on the ice. Good thing we still have insurance.
Mayberry said…
Aww, a sad ending ... hope you find another one. Dewberry plant, I meant, but I guess ending too.
Liv said…
i really came here expecting a post about know, the phones? sheesh. my mind is shot.
Kyla said…
What a bummer. I'm sad they cut it down!
Anonymous said…
Beautiful post, Julie. I look forward to many years of such conversations with my boys. I love what you said about modeling.
Whirlwind said…
We have wild raspberries that grow in our backyard. The girls love it in late June when they bloom and then can grab some bowls and pick their own breakfast. It may grow back if they didn't pull out the roots. If it does, maybe you could transplant it?

A friend of theirs also taught them that clovers were safe to eat and now they grab those.

I remember growing up there were a few spots with wild blueberries and how sweet they tasted. Then the town cleared that section and made a park. I was crushed!
I am really sad for you and that tree. Really. It's sad to see any bush or tree go, never mind a fruit bearing one. It's such a great dialogue you've opened with your kids. Too bad schools don't spend more time outside walking around...
niobe said…
I've never even heard of a dewberry before and now I want to taste one.
Anonymous said…
Dewberry. What a lovely name.
Jennifer S said…
I had never heard of dewberries, though we picked wild blackberries when I was a kid, and we grew raspberries. (I still maintain that one of the best tastes in the world is a warm raspberry right off the cane.)

I admire how you teach your children to notice and learn things.
jeanie said…
Until I watched one episode of Hells Kitchen (one was enough) I had never heard of Dewberries, now I think of a plump baker.

We had a great mulberry tree growing up. Unfortunately it was in exactly the wrong spot - the birds all feasted and needed relief as they flew away at my mother's clothesline.
A brilliant way to teach your kids about learning. I love it! Except for the part about the landscaping guy. Of course, that could be a lesson in itself...

Hope things are calming down for you.

ALM said…
I totally need to get back to nature - I thought you were going to be writing about the mechanical blackberries.... How sad. (For me.)

That was a great post, I love it when kids discover nature... and how crushing that the "weed" was chopped down -- but I guess that's another (unfortunate) lesson the kids have to learn...
we_be_toys said…
Gack - landscapers! They have to be the blackest thumbs out there, planting non-indigenous stuff and hacking away the natural beauty already there.

What a great story - I love taking the kids into the woods and doing the same thing. They were pretty wild and impetuous when they were younger, but over time they've gotten better about being still to observe fauna, and learning how to identify the various plants along the way. Its not something they're going to learn without being taken there, so good on ya mama! Let's hope other parents take note and do some of the same. Its hard to save a wilderness no one wants!
the dragonfly said…
A great story...but the end made me sad. No more dewberries! Well, not on that vine anyway. Hope you can find more...
Kat said…
What a wonderful lesson you gave your girls and in turn the other children as well. I think if more mothers and fathers took the time to do that this world would be a healthier place.
Anonymous said…
Weeds are pretty much in the eye of the beholder.
Bon said…
i want to go walking around finding berries. dewberries. how cool.

and i think the "nobody is born knowing anything" line is one i will have to save for future reference. possibly for O...maybe because i still need to hear it now and then. ;)
Mocha said…
Sorry about the dewberry! Did the guy really act that nonchalant about it? That makes it even more sad that he couldn't see beauty.

My mom took me and my sisters out in "nature" (for lack of a better description) quite often and she pointed out everything and it made her look so important in my eyes. So smart to know all that stuff. I miss that.

You write beautifully. I've probably mentioned it before, but it bears repeating.
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