Cell-Cleansing Clusters

Apart from providing plenty of vitamin C
and minerals, berries are an excellent source
of antioxidants, offering us a tasty, natural defense
against chronic degenerative diseases

By Connie Phillipson
Athens News

Walking through the Greek countryside in autumn. One is likely to come across a variety of berries, either growing wild or making up part of a long-abandoned fence. Fruits like these must have been eaten by our earlier ancestors. At the Middle Pleistocene site of Choukoutien in China, Peking Man – the Far Eastern variety of Homo erectus – was obviously using blackberries (Celtis sinensis), known as ‘senoki’ in English.

A layer of broken shells several inches thick was found there. Closer to home, at the Neolithic Swiss lake-site of Glastonbury, seeds of a large variety of berries were discovered, including (among others) the blackberry, common and dwarf elder berry, cornel cherry, dewberry, dog-rose berry, hawthorn berry, raspberry and strawberry. The strawberry was the rarest, the wayfaring tree berry the commonest.

It is the sane with the Danish Mesolithic site of Mullerup, where traces were found of bilberries, blackberries, currants, haws, hips, rowan and strawberries. The ancient Egyptians also seem to have made use of fresh berries; a dish of nabk berries, somewhat similar to cherries, was part of a funerary offering in a Second Dynasty tomb in Saqqara.

Although berries were certainly part of the diet of our earliest ancestors, usually being both tasty and easy to gather, they appear to have been cultivated rather late. This might either be because they were so readily available or because their yield was low compared to other fruits.

The genus Rubus comprises about 100 species, and eight of these account for the majority of Greece’s wild berries. Characteristically, each berry consists of a cluster of tinier ‘berries’. One (R tomentosus) is probably the hamaivatos of Theophrastus. Another (R fruticosus or ulmifolius) is the vatos par excellence of the ancient Greeks, the common thorny bush known as blackberry in English. This berry is indeed often black or very dark purple, and closely resembles another species of the same genus, the raspberry. The blackberry bush, in many varieties, grows wild but it is also cultivated widely almost everywhere in Europe, a good part of Asia, and in North Africa. In continental Greece the anatolicus variety is most common, while in Cyprus it is Sanctus.

Other species include the Virginia raspberry (a native of North America) and the cloudberry, which grows wild in northwestern Europe. Other varieties from there include the dewberry, the raspberry and the famous framboise of the French, used for a variety of sweets and ice creams, its sweet and tart flavor often inciting our taste-buds to shameful excesses. These last two are also seen wild in mountainous areas of Greece, and the raspberry appears to be the vatos idaia of Dioskorides, who thought the plant was native to Phrygia.

In North America blackberries are divided into those that grow on brambles, and those that burgeon on trailing vines. The latter are often called dewberries in the southern states. Between them, these two varieties constitute the major commercially exploited crops of wild berries. Because of the delicacy of berries, hybrids have been produced by crossing blackberries and raspberries, giving us such varieties as Loganberries, Marionberries, and Youngberries, and the large deep purple Boysenberries, developed by Rudolph Boysen of Napa, California in the 1920s. They are all autumn crops and appear to have been used medicinally by native Americans, reputedly as good “blood cleansers” and as aids against dysentery and common colds. Their leaves were also good for sore throats.

All these are hardly old wives’ tales. Apart from their content of Vitamin C, iron, potassium etc, blackberries are an excellent source of bioflavonoids, anthocyanidins and other powerful natural antioxidants. They are also some of the tastiest and best side-effect-free medications against chronic degenerative diseases – the scourge of our society and age.

So, if you have the opportunity, eat as many blackberries (and other berries mentioned above) as you can, preferably picked away from busy roads. The idea is to use the antioxidants of berries to prevent or slow down the degeneration of your cells, not to fight the heavy metals you may swallow together with the berries.


Blackberry fluffy dessert
(Serves 5)

½ cup evaporated milk
½ cup sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 ½ cup pureed blackberries (frozen or fresh)

Chill milk, mixing bowl and rotary beater. Dissolve sugar in ½ cup boiling water. Soften gelatin in two tablespoons cold water; add to sugar mixture, stirring until dissolved. Chill until slightly thickened. Beat chilled milk with blender until fluffy. Add gelatin mixture and beat well. Fold in blackberries gently. Pour into desert glasses and chill until ready to serve.

Warm blackberry delight
(Serves 4)

2 slices brown bread
500g blackberries
1 ½ tbs caster sugar
vanilla ice cream
sprigs of fresh mint

Place bread in a blender and mix until crumbly. Place crumbs on flat cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes at 200C/400F until golden brown. Heat up a small saucepan on the stove then add the blackberries and the sugar. Sauté for about one minute until the berries are warm. Spoon the berries into serving bowls and top with a scoop of ice cream. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over the ice cream and berries. Serve with a sprig of mint on the ice cream.