For a few weeks every summer in the Northeast, you may spot a strange sight. People of all ages scurrying through the brambles in parks. Or vacant lots. Even along railroad tracks or highways. What could be lurking there that would draw folks to brave the prickly branches and rough terrain of these undeveloped plots of land?
Indigenous only to North America, black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis), also known as black caps, can be found throughout the United States, primarily in Northern states spanning from New England to the Rockies.
Because of its limited harvest season of just three weeks each summer and the wide popularity of the similar and more easily cultivated blackberries and red raspberries, black raspberries have an extremely limited commercial availability. But those who have had them know there is no substitute for this tart/sweet little berry. So what makes it special enough to brave foraging through thorn and thicket?
The flavor is arguably more complex than its siblings. The black raspberry contains higher fiber content and more slowly absorbed sugar than many other berries and its tart undertones are incomparable when processed into jams, fermented into wine or blended into ice cream. That’s not to say it isn’t lovely all by itself. I wonder how many of those foraged berries make it beyond the car ride home.
But great taste is just part of what makes this such a special berry. The black cap also holds astonishing health benefits, some tried and true and others just now becoming clear.
Black raspberries are loaded with antioxidants. In fact, they have a higher concentration of antioxidants than any other fruit. Antioxidants are known to combat and stabilize free radicals, molecules that cause cell instability that can lead to cell damage or death. Free radicals are associated with cancer, making antioxidants a valuable tool in fighting the disease.
Combined with other cancer-fighting components found in this berry, including rutin, gallic acid and ellagic acid, black caps have developed a strong reputation as a cancer fighter more potent than any single component. Black raspberries freeze dried to allow higher dose administration have shown promise in reducing tumors with surprising efficacy.
The berry is also reported to have anti-inflammatory properties, making it a potential allergy fighter.
A very special berry indeed. And probably worth braving the wild underbrush if your local “pick-your-own” doesn’t offer them.
A word of advice.
Wear long pants.