This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The Bramble, or Blackberry Shrub (Rubus fruticosus), which grows in almost every English hedgerow, is familiar to us all. Its popular fruit, ripe in the late summer, furnishes citric, and malic acids, pectin, and albumin. In 1696 doctors declared the ripe berries of the bramble to be a great cordial, and to contain a notable restorative spirit. With the ancient Greeks Blackberries were a common remedy for gout. Blackberry jam, and Blackberry wine are taken nowadays for sore throat in many a rustic English home, whilst Blackberry jelly is esteemed useful against a feeble circulation, and dropsy therefrom. This fruit goes, in some Scotch districts, by the name of "bumble-kites,"from "bumble,"the cry of the bittern, and "kyte," a Scotch word for belly; "the title bumble-kite being applied," says Dr. Prior, "from the rumbling, and bumbling caused in the bellies of children who eat the fruit too greedily".
But the Blackberry has also acquired the name of Scaldberry, from producing, as some say, the eruption known as scald-head in children who eat the fruit to excess; or, as others suppose, from the curative effects of the berries in this malady of the scalp; or, again, from the remedial good produced by applying the leaves externally to scalds. The French name for Blackberries is Mikes sauvages, or Mures de haie. Tom Hood, in his comic way, has described a negro funeral as "going a black-burying." The fruit, if gathered whilst nicely ripe (before Old Michaelmas Day, October 11th, when the devil is supposed to spit on them), and dried in a slow oven, being then reduced to powder, will prove efficacious by their tannin for curing dysentery, or continued diarrhoea, more so than astringent drugs. This powder must be kept dry in a well-corked bottle.
"Where?" asks Laura Matildas Dirge, in the Rejected Addresses of Horace and James Smith (1812): -
"Where is Cupid's crimson motion, Billowy ecstasy of woe? Bear me straight, meandering ocean Where the stagnant waters flow".
"Oh, ubi purpurei motus puer alitis ? 0, qui Me mihi turbineis surrepis, angor, aquis? Due labyrintheum, due me mare tramite recto Quo rapidi fontes, pigra, caterve ruunt".
Australia produces the Blackberry bush more luxuriantly than any other part of the world: indeed, it is well nigh a pest in some parts, though the fruit which grows thereon is of the most luscious nature. Round about Sydney it is largely gathered, and made into jam, and jelly. For Blackberry wine, which is a reliable astringent cordial, measure your berries, and bruise them; then to every gallon of the fruit add a quart of boiling water. Let the mixture stand for twenty-four hours, being occasionally stirred; next strain off the liquid, adding to every gallon a couple of pounds of refined sugar, and keep it in a cask, tightly corked, until, the following October, when it will be ripe and rich. "It's my own wine,"said Armorel of Lyonesse (Besant); "I made it myself last year of ripe Blackberries".
"Wine of Samson,"answered Roland Lee, "the glorious vintage of the Blackberry; in pies, and jam-pots I know him, but not as yet in decanters. Thank you! thank you! "He held the glass to the light, smelt it, rolled it gently round in the glass, and then tasted it. "Sweet," he said critically, "and strong: clings to the palate: a liqueur wine! a curious wine! "Then he drank it up.
Other home-made sweet Wines are almost equally delicious, and singularly wholesome, containing but little spirit, and each possessing the herbal virtues of the fruit, or flowers, from which it is made. "Perhaps you'd like to spend a couple of shillings, or so in a bottle of Currant wine bye-and-bye up in the bedroom," said Steerforth to little David Copperfield, when newly come to Salem House School; "you belong to my bedroom, I find".
So, respecting British Raisin wine (which is luscious, and slightly laxative), C. S. Calverley relates, touching the fair Julia Goodehild, when he was a frisky pupil at Dr. Crabb's Boarding School: -
"With me she danced till drowsily her eyes began to blink; When I brought her Raisin wine, and said,' Drink, pretty creature; Drink! ' "
It was the opinion of Charles Dickens that the proper place for Champagne is not at the dinner-table, but at the dance, where "it takes its fitting rank, and position, among feathers, gauze, lace, embroidery, ribbons, white satin shoes, and Eau de Cologne; for Champagne is simply one of the elegant extras of life".
A fermented liquor may be made also from the sap of the Birch tree (Beivla alba) in the Spring time, this being collected throughout the mountains, and wooded districts of Germany, and Scandinavia. It is possessed of diuretic properties, and is antiscorbutic, being especially commended for modifying the symptoms of diabetes mellitus. Birch bark yields an oil which is used for giving to Russia leather its peculiar pleasant odour. In the treatment of various chronic maladies the leaves, the sap, and the oil of this tree are employed. The West Indian Birch, or "gumbo-lumbo,"furnishes a kind of gum-elemi, which is beneficial in the treatment of gout. The traditional use of a Birch-rod is known to us all from our youth upwards. Hood bore witness to its tender mercies at Clapham Academy: -
"There I was birched, there I was bred. There, like a little Adam fed From learning's woeful tree".
In Chaucer's time "Gon a blackberyed "seems to have been a humorous expression signifying "Gone to pot," or "Gone to ruin." "Though that her soul's gon' a blackeberyed" (Pardner's Tale). Jelly, or jam made from the Brambleberry, and taken on bread in the place of butter, was highly commended against red gravel by Mr. Pott, a noted surgeon, two centuries ago. Dr. Franklin, who suffered long from stone in the bladder, has recorded his assurance that Blackberry jam, of which he consumed large quantities, certainly served to relieve him. The Anglo-Saxon name was "Bramble-apple."Gipsies say that in cooking Blackberries you cannot stew them too long. For "Blackberry Cordial"the juice should be expressed from fresh ripe fruit, putting half a pound of white sugar to each quart of this juice, together with half an ounce of powdered nutmeg, and the same of cloves (bruised); boil these together for a short time, and add a little good brandy to the mixture when cold. In Cruso's Treasury of Easy Medicines (1771) it is directed for old inveterate ulcers, to take a decoction of Blackberry leaves made with wine, and foment the ulcers with this whilst hot, each night and morning, which will heal them, however difficult to be cured.