Brambles, or wild blackberries, are obviously a very useful plant. I used to say I'd never grow cultivated blackberries, as there are plenty of wild ones to be gathered for free, and they're invasive so they can be a bother in the garden. However they're a perfect candidate for my edible vandal-proof hedge, and they were given to me free, so the one in the photo is a cultivated variety.
I don't need to list the uses of blackberry fruit do I? In the last few weeks I have used them to make jam, wine, pies and liqueur. You can make a cordial from it, you can eat them fresh with cream, make ice cream, add them to yogurt. They're a wonderfully versatile berry.
The leaves are also useful. Gather them when they're young, dry them for a week then crumble them and use exactly as tea leaves. Bramble leaf tea tastes good (you'll find it in the ingredients list of most fruit-flavoured herb teas) and is reputedly good for diarrhoea and a long list of other ailments. But I prefer to mash the berries, pour boiling water over them, steep for a few minutes, then strain and serve with a spoonful of honey for a sweet fruity drink full of vitamin C.
Brambles are also very important for wildlife. Apparently they form an important part of the diet of deer. They grow into thickets which provide protection for small animals, as Uncle Remus, traditional author of the Brer Rabbit stories, well knew. Birds eat the berries in autumn, when worms and insects are becoming scarce (then perch in the tree in my drive and crap purple all over my car, damn them). And insects such as honeybees consume the nectar from the flowers in spring, pollinating the plants in return.
They spread by seeds, but if you spot a bramble seedling early enough it's no bother to get it out. The trouble comes from the runners. Brambles put out long straight branches which grow along the ground with amazing rapidity. Where the tip touches the ground, the plant puts out roots and forms a new plant which can survive even if the runner is severed. Cutting the plants off at ground level only encourages more suckers. If you have a large area infested with a bramble thicket, as dad has in Ireland, or as Welsh Girl had when she first took over her allotment, you have a major task on your hands to clear the ground. Do wear protective clothing as the prickles are vicious and the tough stems form natural tripwires that lacerate your ankle as they knock you face-first to the ground.
Like nettles, they're such a useful plant that I'm very glad to see them growing wild where I can easily gather them. But like nettles, I don't tolerate wild ones in my allotment or garden, and I keep the cultivated ones in check.