Read the article to find out about old blackberry superstitions or myths, or, watch the video below for a quick low-down on the biggest ones.
There are a lot of historical myths and superstitions about blackberries, but the most widespread belief is that you should not eat blackberries after a certain day of the year. Although the precise date varies somewhat, the date usually given is September 29 or “Michaelmas day” which is named after the archangel Michael. After 1752, the calender in Britain was changed and Michaelmas day was moved forward to October 10, or October 11, according to some, but this is now considered “Old” Michaelmas day.
So, you may see all these dates being cited. But, why the prohibition against blackberries after Michaelmas day? Well, after September 30, it is said that blackberries may be inedible, poisonous, or, even worse. Bad luck and evil may befall you if you eat them on this late date of the season.
Michaelmas day, the day of St. Michael the archangel, who is said to be the head of all the angels, was the day that Satan, or Lucifer, was cast out of Heaven. He had the misfortune to land on a blackberry bush! In case you don’t know, blackberries grow on thick, thorny brambles.
Needless to say, old Lucifer was quite unhappy with such a landing and so he cursed blackberries from then on, causing them to spoil after September 30 (Or October 11). It is said that he would scorch them with his fiery breath, or stamp on them with his cloven hooves, or spit on them, or wave or wipe his tail on them, or throw his cloak over them, etc. If you ate them after that happened, you’d have bad luck, or at least become very ill…which is bad luck too, I guess. It is true that blackberries deteriorate rapidly at this late point in the season.
The different actions he is said to have used comes from different versions of the story for the England, Ireland, and Scotland. For example:
- England – Devil spits on the blackberry bush
- Ireland – Devil stomps on bush with his hoofs.
- Scotland – throws his cloak over them.
In Ireland, wear the Devil is said to put his foot on the bush, there are also stories, in some parts of the country, that one should not eat the berries after Michaelmas day because of the Machinations of a goblin known as Phooka, who would appear at a bat, bird, horse, or goat.
Some versions of the superstitions give a much more dire warning: If you eat blackberries after Michaelmas day, you will die before the year is over!
Perhaps related is the belief that the “Burning Bush” that God showed to Moses, in the Bible, was, in fact, a blackberry bush. And by some accounts, the Crown of Thorns which Jesus was made to wear before his Crucifixion, was made from a blackberry bramble. All of this, of course, is later invented folklore. The specific source of the thorns is not mentioned in the Bible, but there are several thorny candidates that grew in the river Jordan area, including the thorny jujube tree, or Ziziphus spina-christi, or the Sayla tree.
There are, of course, other myths associated with blackberries but the belief that the devil spoils them after Michaelmas day is the most widespread. Another saying is that babies, horses, and cat’s never feel very well when the blackberries are ripe. It is also said that when blackberries bloom, in May, they bring cold weather. This cold snap is called Blackberry Winter.
Of course, blackberries are not all bad. There were many reputed medicinal uses for the plant, and the historian Pliny touted their many benefits for ulcers and bleeding wounds. They were believed to be efficacious against the venom of serpents, and the ancient Britons said that a salad made with the leaves would re-affix any teeth that were lose! As well, there are some magical properties, of the efficacious kind, that I’ve written a little about in magical properties of edible herbs.