Foraging for your own food in the wild can be fun, as long as you know what you're looking for. Picking berries can be especially fun, given that the end result means pies, cobblers or just fresh, sweet-tart fruit in your mouth. If you've ever come across briar patches in the wild (or alongside your favorite road) that look like blackberries, you might want to look again because those berries might be dewberries instead.
What is a Dewberry?
Dewberries, classified in genus rubus, are a group of plants related to blackberries. The Dewberry plant is a trailing vine, meaning they grow lower to the ground like raspberries, instead of on upright vines. The fruit is a dark purple or black, which is another reason they are often mistaken for blackberries.
There are several different types of dewberries, including the European dewberry (scientific name Rubus caesius) and the American dewberry (Rubus Flagellares). The Southern dewberry (Rubus trivialis) is part of the American dewberry family; as the name indicates, you'll find them most in the United States stretching from part of Texas east to Georgia and south through Florida.
When can you pick dewberries?
The berries ripen in April and May, which is another way you can distinguish them from blackberries, which are in season about 10 weeks later. First, look for tiny white five-petal flowers that start to show up in February and March. The flowers will turn into tiny green berries, then ripen into the dark purple berries. The berries tend to be a little bit smaller than blackberries.
A couple of things to keep in mind when foraging: bring a long stick to poke around in the brambles and scare off any small critters that might also be foraging there, and wear gloves to protect your hands from prickles.
How to use the berries
Dewberries taste a lot like blackberries, though tend to be a little more tart. They are perfect for jams and jellies, and in pastries like cobblers and pies. You can also make fruit wine with them.
You can also pick the young leaves of the plant and steep them in hot water to make a tea. If you're going to make tea, it's best to pick the leaves in the morning before the sun evaporates the essential oils in the leaves.
While you can swap dewberries in for other berries in most recipes, try this cobbler recipe from the Homesick Texan for an authentic dewberry dessert or this recipe for dewberry jam from Two Men and a Little Farm.