The Blackberry: Summer’s Sweet Antioxidant
Behind my childhood home a long continuous bramble of blackberries grew along the tall wooden fence that divided my subdivision from my best friend’s. After school, we’d meet at the fence and, depending on the location of the afternoon’s fun, one of us would climb it to join the other. In the early par t of the summer, before the bramble’s tiny white f lowers turned to fruit, we treated it like a angerous obstacle course—one false move and you could end up scratched and bloody in a tangle of thorns.
By mid-summer the barbed-wire bramble separating my friend and I was weighed down (finally) by sweet blackberries, a transformation that gave us a way to make easy pocket change. A neighbor on my side of the fence wanted to make her husband a pie and she offered to pay us to pick the berries. My friend and I walked the fence with plastic Piggly Wiggly grocery bags in hand, eating as many as we saved. I can still taste those sun-warmed berries exploding in my mouth. At the end of the day our fingers and lips were stained blue, and we were ten dollars richer.
Even now, the taste of blackberries triggers my memories of childhood and summertime (the humid heat, the cool relief of the beach, brightly patterned sundresses, homemade ice cream…). Lucky for me, as I want to continue creating summer memories well into my twilight years, I’ve found blackberries are considered one of the best sources of antioxidants.
What are antioxidants and why are they good for you? According to WebMd antioxidants help to reduce oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Oxidation is the interaction between oxygen molecules and the different substances they contact; oxidative damage is when this interaction causes deterioration. Think about how an avocado turns brown once its skin is pierced, or how a bicycle fender becomes rusty if left outside over a period of time—both are deteriorating because of the process of oxidation.
Oxidative damage affects the cells within the body and has been linked to the development of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Because antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals and stall oxidation, they can counteract environmental carcinogens, protect against cardiovascular disease, fight sun damage to skin and help to thwart age related disease.
Blackberries are an antioxidant smorgasbord. Rich in both vitamins C and E, blackberries also contain ellagic acid, which is a plant compound thought to combat carcinogens. Their deep blue and purple color, a result of significant levels of anthocyanin pigment, also delivers an antioxidant punch.
So where can you find fresh blackberries? Why not throw on a wide-brimmed hat and pick them yourself?
From late May through June, take a trip out to Indigo Farms (910-287-6794) located 15 miles south of Shallotte. The market is open Monday-Saturday 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. Last year blackberry “U-Pick” prices were $1.25 per pound (they also sell pre-picked berries for quick pick-up). If you can’t make it out to the farm, flash-frozen blackberries and even blackberry jam are both options available at your local supermarket.
Blackberries are easy to incorporate into your diet. Throw a handful in your cereal, smoothie, or yogurt. Personally, as I am a big fan of the salad-as-main-course, I use them in the following recipe:
Summer Berry Salad
1 bag of mixed greens
1 cup of blackberries
1 cup of sliced strawberries
1/4 cup dried, sweetened cranberries
1/4 cup of crumbled goats cheese
1/4 cup pecan pieces
Empty all of the ingredients in a large salad bowl and toss with the raspberry vinaigrette of your choosing. Enjoy!