Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere

Black Raspberry

(Rubus leucodermis and  Rubus occidentalis)

by Scott Sheu

The black raspberry's name can oftentimes be a source of confusion: is it actually a blackberry? Or a raspberry? Could it be both?

It certainly doesn't help that it is referred as a blackberry in the mid-Atlantic states. In actuality, the black raspberry is a unique fruit with a different texture and taste from blackberries or raspberries despite its name.

Origin and Distribution

Black raspberries have been growing wild in North America as long as it has been documented. There are actually two species of black raspberries, the Rubus leucodermis which is native to the western coast of the United States and the Rubus occidentalis which grows in the east. Besides minor differentiations, the two species are mostly alike.

The Rubus occidentalis grows from the all along the eastern United States up to the Rocky Mountains while the Rubus leucodermis is found along the western coast, ranging up to British Columbia. They can be found in open, woody areas and prefer mild climates with rich soil. The berries usually ripen and are harvested in late summer. Though the fruit is much less popular today than it was in the past, both species of the black raspberry is still grown and sold throughout the United States.

Common Usage

The taste of a black raspberry can be somewhat tart and is therefore commonly consumed in sweetened products such as jams, pies, ice creams and sometimes wine. The berries are particularly high in antioxidants and have been studied in terms of cancer prevention, as well as treatment of diabetes, allergies, and many other ailments. Additionally, because of their dark color, they are used for dyes.

American Indian Usage

Because their plants are so widespread, black raspberries have been traditionally enjoyed by numerous tribes, particularly in the Northwest. Often enjoyed fresh, they are also used in cakes, turned into preserves, or dried like raisins (Turner 123). The dried berries would then be used for foodstuffs such as pemmican and provided an easy way to get vitamins during the fruit-scarce winter.

The plants also have a variety medicinal uses. The roots are crushed and consumed for stomach pains and bowel trouble (Vogel 357). They are often boiled to make teas in order to treat dysentery and used as a wash to treat sores and wounds among many other uses.

Botanical Description

Like its better-known cousins the raspberry and blackberry, the black raspberry is of the rose family and native to the United States and Canada. The plants are shrubs with long, arching “canes” that grow up to 2-3 meters (Rubus occidentalis) or .5-2 meters tall (Rubus leucodermis). The milky blueish-green canes are tough, woody, and covered with curved prickles. The leaves are long, ovular, and sharply-toothed with white and hairy undersides (Brill, Dean 113). The whitish-pink flowers form clusters and bloom on the top of the canes in mid-spring. Like red raspberries, the actual berries are roundish, conical and made up of many seed compounds, though they tend to be smaller and are purplish-black in color.



Brill, Steve and Evelyn Dean. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so Wild) Places. New York : Hearst Books, 1994.

Smith, Andrew F. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. New York : Oxford University Press, 2009. Turner, Nancy J. Food plants of Coastal First Peoples. Vancouver : UBC Press, 1995. Weiner, Michael A. Earth Food: Plant Remedies, Drugs, and Natural Foods of the North American Indians. New York: MacMillan, 1980.