Last Updated on August 6, 2021
If you’ve never foraged wild black raspberries before, you’re going to be blown away by these flavorful, easy-to-find wild berries. Also known as black caps berries or blackcap raspberries, these tasty fruits are easy to find and forage in summer, along with mulberries, juneberries, and elderberries. Here’s what to know about identifying and foraging wild black raspberries.
WHAT ARE BLACK CAPS BERRIES OR WILD BLACK RASPBERRIES?
Ready a little after juneberries and before the mulberries start rolling in, black caps berries or blackcap raspberries are a delicious way to enjoy the fruits of early summer. Their intense flavor and ease of identification makes them a favorite with foragers.
The botanical name of wild black raspberries is Rubus occidentalis. Blackcap raspberries are native to eastern North America. In the western half of the continent, you’ll find the very similar Rubus leucodermis, which is also referred to as blackcap raspberry.
Like other black berries, they’re full of dark pigments called anthocyanins, which are potent antioxidants. Scientific analysis has shown wild black raspberries to be exceptional in their antioxidant capacity.
Often confused with blackberries, wild black raspberries are quite different, with a sweeter, more intense flavor than blackberries. Like raspberries, black caps berries have a hollow center, while blackberries have an edible core that comes off the stem when picked.
Both wild black raspberries and blackberries grow on canes that are typically quite thorny, though there are thornless varieties of blackberry. Mulberries, which some people confuse with blackberries, grow on trees rather than canes and do not have thorns. (Incidentally, the leaves of mulberries are edible as well, and make a tasty medicinal tea. Here’s what to know about making mulberry tree leaf tea.)
There are loads more yummy berries in the Rubus genus you might come across as you forage wild black raspberries, including dewberries, wineberries, and wild red raspberries. Have fun getting to know your local foraged berry options!
IDENTIFYING BLACKCAPS OR WILD BLACK RASPBERRIES
The first rule of foraging is always to be sure you’ve got the right plant. Use multiple features to positively identify wild black raspberries and other wild edibles, considering the plant’s growth habit, arrangement, shape, and color of its leaves in addition to the shape and color of the black caps berries.
If you’re new to foraging, you might also consider going with a veteran forager, who can help teach you to correctly identify wild black raspberries and other local foraged foods. Or check out the Herbal Academy’s online foraging course, which teaches plant identification and ethical wildcrafting practices.
BLACKCAP RASPBERRY IDENTIFYING FEATURES
Wild black raspberries grow all over North America and are easy to identify. Below are the features to look for when seeking out black caps berries.
Blackcap raspberries grow on multistemmed canes forming thick brambles that can make getting to all the yummy berries you see a bit of a challenge. Each cane can grow to 6 feet long.
Stems have a silvery or bluish color, as you can see in the photo below. They’ve got a lot of small thorns, so take care as you pick.
Blackcap raspberries have compound leaves composed of 3 to 5 serrated leaflets. The undersides of leaves have a whitish cast, seen above.
Blackcap raspberry plants have small flowers that grow in clusters of 2 to 7, with white or pinkish petals.
Blackcap raspberries start off hard and green, gradually turning red and then eventually purplish-black. They’re not ready till they’re purple and slip easily off the stem. If you grasp a berry and it stays put, leave it to ripen longer and come back for more another day. Black caps berries ripen over a period of several weeks, so you’ll find unripe and ripe berries on the same plant.
Black caps berries aren’t technically berries (a fleshy fruit emerging from a single pistil, like a tomato), but aggregates of many drupelets (fleshy fruit around a single seed).
When to Forage Blackcap Raspberries
Black caps berries begin to ripen in early summer. Here in zone 4, the first ripe wild black raspberries usually appear after the solstice, with the picking season in full swing in early July. You’ll probably find them earlier if you live in a warmer climate.
As with other edible wild plants, you’ll find blackcap raspberries in full sun ripen sooner than those growing in shadier spots. If one patch of black cap berries is petering out, check more sheltered locations and you’ll likely find more.
Birds plant blackcap raspberries all over the place. We find them in our yard from time to time, easily spotted by the striking color of their canes. Because they’re thorny and not especially attractive, we pull them from our permaculture garden, but if you have a spot where a bramble patch won’t be unwelcome, it may be worth letting them go so you can easily harvest more delicious perennial fruit from your yard.
DO BLACKCAP BERRIES HAVE POISONOUS LOOKALIKES?
Thankfully, wild black raspberries and all the berries you might mistake for them are not only edible, but very delicious. If you find another raspberry-shaped drupe fruit, go ahead and add it to your container. Maybe you’ve found a wineberry or wild red raspberry.
TIPS FOR FORAGING WILD BLACK RASPBERRIES
Blackcaps berries are ripe when they’re dark purple. They often have a whitish cast to them.
You’ll know black caps berries are ripe because they’ll pull away from the stem easily. If you have to exert much effort to remove them, the berries aren’t ready and you should leave them to ripen. Unripe berries won’t harm you, they just won’t taste great, and they don’t continue to ripen after picking.
Blackcap raspberries ripen over several weeks, so you can return to your wild black raspberry patch often to collect more.
Black caps berries are hollow like raspberries, and while not quite as delicate, you’ll get a less smushed berry harvest if you don’t pile them too high. Best to get any you don’t devour on the spot into the refrigerator or freezer, as they don’t keep long.
Like their domesticated raspberry cousins, the leaves of wild black raspberry plants can be made into a tasty tea.
Best to wear clothing you don’t mind getting torn by the thorns and stained by the berries.
Mosquitoes love bramble patches, so be sure to bring some good insect repellent (best price I’ve found here) when you forage wild black raspberries. Here’s how to make a DIY bug repellent if that’s more your thing.
WHAT TO DO WTH BLACK CAPS BERRIES
Besides eating them by the handful, blackcaps raspberries work beautifully in baked goods of all kinds, from simple muffins to baked oatmeal, to mixed berry crisps. SO good!
You can also make jam, ice cream, or sorbet if you prefer. Use wild black raspberries in any recipe calling for raspberries or blackberries.
Wild black raspberries are on the seedy side, so you may not find them as wonderful for jam as less seedy berries like raspberries. Though I rarely get more than I want to eat fresh, I think wild black raspberries are great in smoothie recipes, but if you object to seeds in your smoothies, you might not love black caps berries for this purpose.
Since they don’t ripen all at once (like mulberries), depending on how many plants you have access to, you may need to collect berries for awhile before you have enough for a recipe. Thankfully, black caps berries are a snap to freeze.
Freezing Blackcaps Raspberries
Give your blackcaps berries a quick rinse, allow to dry, and pop them in a container in the freezer, adding more as you find them. If you have a big haul of blackcap raspberries, freeze them on a cookie sheet first before putting them in your storage container or they’ll stick together.
When you have a couple of cups’ worth, add them to your favorite muffin recipe or baked oatmeal. You can combine them with blueberries, mulberries, or whatever delicious berries you’ve foraged and have a thoroughly indulgent mixed berry treat.
If you keep your berries in the freezer till winter, you’ll get to enjoy the delights of seasonal eating even when nothing’s growing outside. That little taste of summer baked into a scrumptious muffin in January is such a treat!
Love foraging delicious wild foods? Be sure to check out some of the other edible wild plants you can find in your neighborhood!
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Photo credits: Alina Kuptsova, dlarson1523
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.