Rubus villosus. Tall blackberry.

Botanical name: 

Pl. 38. Rubus villosus 1. The family of shrubs comprized under the term Rubus, including the various species of Raspberry, Blackberry, Dewberry, &c. is extensively diffused throughout the United States. Many of them are known as troublesome brambles, a few are unarmed, and a certain number are nearly herbaceous. Some are distinguished by the elegance of their flowers, and others by the deliciousness of their fruit. The Rubus villosus is one of the most common and interesting species. It abounds among the brushwood of neglected fields and pastures, about fences and the borders of woods, from the Eastern to the Southern states. Being of rapid growth, it is frequently troublesome to the farmer by spreading in his lands, although it offers some amends for the intrusion by the abundance and fine flavour of its fruit. It is commonly called tall or high blackberry in distinction from the R. trivialis or low blackberry, which it greatly resembles in the quality of its fruit. It is in flower in June and its fruit is ripe in August and September.

For the generic character, it has a five-cleft calyx; five petals; and a compound berry composed of one-seeded acini.

—This species is pubescent, bristly and prickly, the leaves in threes or fives, leafets ovate, acuminate, serrate, pubescent, with the petioles prickly; flowers racemed.

Class Icosandria, order Polygynia; natural orders Senticosae, Lin. Rosaceae, Juss.

This shrub has a tall, branching, prickly stem, which is more or less furrowed and angular. Leaves mostly in threes on a channelled, hairy petiole. A few are solitary and some quinate. Leafets ovate, acuminate, sharply and unequally serrate, covered with scattered hairs above, and with a thick soft pubescence underneath. The terminal leafet is pedicelled, the two side ones sessile. The petiole and back of the middle rib are commonly armed with short recurved prickles. The flowers grow in erect racemes with a hairy, prickly stalk. The pedicels are slender, an inch or two in length, covered with glandular hairs and supported by lanceolate bractes. Calyx divided into five ovate, concave, hairy segments ending in an acuminate point or a lanceolate leafet. Petals five, white, ovate or oblong, concave, contracted into a short claw at base. Stamens very numerous, with roundish anthers and slender, white filaments. Germs numerous, covering a conic central receptacle. Styles capillary, arising from the sides of the germs, persistent. Fruit a black, shining, compound berry formed of pulpy acini attached to the receptacle, each containing a single oblong seed.

The bark of the root of this bramble is the part which has been medicinally employed, it is a pure and strong astringent, which property it manifests both by its sensible effects and by chemical examination. When treated with the sulphate of iron both the tincture and decoction assume a beautiful dark purple colour and throw down a copious precipitate. A precipitate also takes place on the addition of gelatin, which is copious, white and opaque. The alcoholic solution is in part decomposed by water. The substance precipitated does not occasion the uniform turbidness which usually attends the separation of resins, but exhibits a flocculent appearance like that of congulated mucilage. These flocculi, however, when collected and dried, exhibit the common resinous properties on exposure to heat. I subjected the dried bark to distillation, but the distilled water was nearly insipid, possessing only a very slight flavour of the root.

The properties of this bark are those of a very powerful astringent. I have tried its operation sufficiently to become satisfied of its efficacy both internally and externally used in a variety of cases which admit of relief from medicines of its class. It is true that our list of vegetable astringents has become very numerous and the cases which require them are perhaps less frequent than was formerly imagined; yet as we continue to import and consume various foreign medicines of this kind, we ought not to exclude from attention native articles of equal efficacy. Professor Chapman, of Philadelphia, expresses a very decided opinion in regard to the powers of this substance. "Of the vegetable astringents," says he, "this I have reason to believe is among the most active and decidedly efficacious in certain cases. To the declining stages of dysentery after the symptoms of active inflammation are removed, it is well suited, though I have given it, I think, with greater advantage under nearly similar circumstances, in cholera infantum. To check the inordinate evacuations which commonly attend the protracted cases of this disease, no remedy has ever done so much in my hands. Even two or three doses will sometimes so bind the bowels that purgatives became necessary. Being so powerfully astringent, this medicine is useful in all excessive purgings, and especially in the diarrhea of very old people, as well as when it occurs at the close of diseases. During my attendance in our public institutions I had abundant opportunities of testing its efficacy in these cases."

The fruit of the blackberry is among the most delicious productions of the uncultivated forest. To an agreeable combination of sweetness and acid it adds an aromatic fragrance which is surpassed by few of the lighter fruits produced among us. It differs in size and perfection in different seasons, warm and dry summers being most favourable to its perfect maturity. Our markets, however, are rarely destitute of this fine fruit in the months of August and September.

Some other species of Rubus are closely allied to this in the qualities of their fruit and bark, particularly the Rubus procumbens, commonly called low or running blackberry or dewberry. The fruit of this species is usually larger but produced in smaller quantity from the inflorescence being nearly solitary. The bark is not less astringent than in the present species.

Botanical References.

Rubus villosus, Aiton, Kew, ii. 210.
Willdenow, ii. 1085.
Michaux, i. 297.
Pursh, i. 346.

Medical References.

Chapman, Therapeutics and Mat. Med. ii. 474.
Thacher, Disp. 341.

American Medical Botany, 1817-1821, was written by Jacob Bigelow, M. D.