Tuesday, April 2, 2019

B is for Blackberries vs. Winter (A to Z Challenge 2019: Fruit Folktales)

Blackberries have a thing with seasons. In English folklore, people say you shouldn't pick them after Michaelmas (September 29), because the Devil spits on them, tramples them, or pees on them. The Old Guy hates the little fruit so much because when he fell from Heaven he landed on a blackberry bramble. Ouch.

But that's not the story I wanted to write about today. Rather, I have been reading about the role blackberries (and other berries) play in Iroquois mythology, especially that of the Seneca Nation. In the stories where Winter is defeated, berries play an important part: The belief is that when the blackberries begin to bloom, Winter has no power over the world anymore.

In many stories, Spring taunts, wrestles, and defeats Winter in his lodge of ice and snow. He is a young, strong man helped by the warm South Wind and Thaw. According to the lore collected by Arthur Caswell Parker (an American folklorist of Seneca descent), Spring uses medicine made of blackberry juice to break Winter's resistance, throwing it into his face to counter his power. Another story, collected by Harriet Maxwell Converse (an American folklorist adopted into the Seneca Nation), Ha'tho', Frost, is deadly afraid of blackberries, and never visits the earth when they are in blossom; he has once been vanquished by a boy who mocked him by throwing blackberry juice into his face.

Martha Champion Randle, exploring the Waugh Collection of Iroquois Folktales (stories collected at the beginning of the 20th century), lists several versions of the same story. In these, Atu (Cold or Winter) is usually defeated in a contest by a mortal man. In one of them, a hunter is helped by a supernatural woman, who gifts him strawberry juice and strawberry vines, that help in defeating Atu. Randle notes that the Iroquois belief is that berries grow where snow lingers longest in the spring, therefore they are a symbol of the ultimate defeat of Winter. In another story, Thaw personified gifts the berry vines to the mortal challenged by Atu.

Do you grow blackberries in your garden? Are they blooming yet?
Have you ever tried blackberry juice?


  1. Another interesting post! Nothing is blooming yet where I live. We still have the last vestiges of snowbanks.

  2. I didn´t know there were so many folktales related to blackberries. I should have known spring was quickly coming when we saw the first tiny fruits grow in my mom´s backyard some weeks ago.

  3. The Lakota used blackberries (and other berries) mixed with dried and ground lean meat and fat to make the survival food called pemmican. I can understand why they would consider berries the victor over the foe of winter. Begin Your Day Right to Avoid Burnout

  4. Actually, blackberries are considered a pest here, an introduced species. I don’t think we are allowed to plant them in our gardens, though you can buy them. However, in my teens we lived in a block of flats which had a huge back garden that had a small orchard and - blackberries! They grew over the walls of the garage. We all went out and picked them every year. My family just had them fresh or with cream, but some neighbours made jam. Very nice!

  5. How very interesting - I've always had the impression that Spring was personified by a woman, didn't know some cultures use a man.

  6. I love blackberries! When I had the privilege of spending some time in the Midlands in the UK, i joined my sister in picking wild blackberries. Delicious fresh and cooked.

  7. I've had some juicy blackberries, but not just blackberry juice. They are yummy. Good lore post!

  8. I love blackberries!! I am yet to try blackberry juice! Have you tried? How is it??

    Dropping in from at

  9. I've come across a few folklore stories about how spring beats winter, but never one involving blackberries. Really interesting post

  10. Here in upstate New York (land of the Iroquois), the crocuses are just up in the last few days. The blackberry bramble in the backyard, which began as a single seedling, is not ready to bloom yet.

    But it will.

    I just remembered that I have a decade-old post that features my then-five-year-old daughter and blackberries. I thought you might like to see it, so here's the link:


    I loved reading all the folklore surrounding one of my favorite fruits - and yes, I actually have had blackberry juice. It's delicious!

    I will be back to read more of your posts!



    The Hygge of Hometending


  11. never tried blackberry juice but i do have a little bowl of blackberries in the fridge right now! :) man those legends about Satan falling on a blackberry bramble and peeing on the fruit after Michaelmas. LOL. WOuld definitely make an interesting post. :)


  12. Fascinating tales of blackberries. I was always curious how various folktales have different fruits in them. Thanks to your post I learned some new tales now :)

    By the way I have not seen blackberries growing so have not tried the juice also! Looks like something to add on my "things to eat/drink" list.

    - Jui Positive Cookies

  13. I had some wild blackberries in my yard when I moved in. The invasive kind. I loved the berries, and would have left the brambles but they grew so quickly I had to get rid of them! I'm fortunate I got them all.

    That's funny about him peeing on the berries! I will guess the late season berries don't taste as sweet, so the stories about not eating them.
    My neighbor makes blackberry wine. Once it fermented and he had to quickly give it away. It was delicious! I wish he'd have more mistakes like that!

  14. Hmmm...I have blackberries in the freezer (mixed with a couple of other berries). I wonder if frozen ones negate the power to dispel Winter.

  15. Love blackberries! They are not blooming yet, it's still a little bit too cold here in France!
    Fred at Quilting Patchwork & Appliqué

  16. I love blackberries! When I lived in Oregon, they grew wild. So yummy!

    Jingle Jangle Jungle
    Literary Gold

  17. I love blackberries, just not the seeds! They are so hard. Interesting tales. I had no idea blackberries were so important. I do know they have lots of antioxidants and such and so are healthy, too!

  18. My mother has the largest blackberry patch! In the legend it's a wonder they don't mention how badly blackberries stain. It would be a giveaway for sure if it was thrown in anyone's face lol Love,love,love momma's blackberry jam!!
    Stephanie Finnell
    @randallbychance from
    Katy Trail Creations

  19. They are my least favourite berries (though I love them all) but I'll appreciate them more now that I know they're bringing my favourite season to us :)


  20. More interesting tales that I didn't know - except for our English stories about the devil.

  21. That part about what the devil does to blackberries is funny, strange, not ha ha. I'm not a fan of blackberries to be honest.

  22. I never know blackberries features so prominently in folklore - except for the whole Devil spitting on them thing :). I love bramble jelly on toast with peanut butter, but I'm not fond of the fruit straight from the bramble.
    Tasha's Thinkings - Ghost Stories

  23. What great tidbits of stories - thank you.
    Back when I was a child and lived in Poland, we would pick blackberries straight from the bushes in forests and other places they grew wild. They always remind me of sunny June months...

  24. I love blackberries, though I don't know if I've ever had blackberry juice. Someday, I'd like to have my own little hobby farm, and I'll have plenty of berry bushes.

  25. I’ve never grown blackberries but when I owned rural land in Arkansas years ago, we had wild blackberries and loved to make blackberry jam. If cold weather came in the spring the locals would call it blackberry winter. Thank you for visiting my A2Z blog.

  26. This is a great post! I think I should acquire some blackberry juice once I feel winter is over -- it's just starting here, so no jumping the gun.

    Ronel visiting from the A-Z Challenge with Music and Writing Let's Talk Boybands