Is it safe to eat Seattle’s urban blackberries?

Need something sweet while you’re summering in Seattle? We’re all in luck — because it’s almost blackberry season and blackberries are gonna be everywhere.

The blackberry boom

Many of the blackberry plants around Puget Sound are of the Himalayan variety, which horticulturist Luther Burbank introduced to us in 1894. Burbank’s creation became famous for its large fruits and ability to, as KUOW put it, “[grow] like nobody’s business.”

Today, our non-local blackberry is so prolific that King County identifies it as a noxious weed that will “out-compete” native plants. While these thickets might be a gardener’s nightmare, they’re considered a special summertime treat for plenty of Seattleites.

Are they safe to eat?

The short answer: Snack at your own risk.

“As delicious as blackberries are — and we’d love to tell you to eat them wherever you find them — the truth is, it’s more complicated than that,” James Apa, spokesperson for King County Public Health, told us. “It’s hard to tell from the eye if the blackberries have been sprayed with herbicide or pesticide … [or] growing in a place that may have been contaminated.”

A little peace of mind… 

Seattle Parks and Recreation requires that blackberries and other edible plants growing in parks not be sprayed while they’re fruiting “to avoid any risk,” said Christina Hirsch, a spokesperson for the department. Our city municipal code also states plant matter shouldn’t be taken home from the park, which technically bars foraging.

So where can you find blackberries around the city?

  • At the Beacon Hill Food Forest, which is home to blackberries, raspberries, fruit and nut trees and veggie patches
  • ParentMap suggests heading to Magnuson Park’s trails and checking in with parks naturalists and environmental centers at Seward, Discovery, Carkeek, and Hamlin parks
  • U-Pick berry farms — just make sure to check out what’s in season before making the trek
  • Planning a hike? Here are a few trails you might be able to snag some berries over the summer

 

Pro-tip from local naturalist Stewart Wechsler: “The best spots to pick blackberries are generally among the sunniest spots, so a good south, southwest, or west exposure is the best bet for abundant, well ripened, sweet blackberries.”

And If you’re out berry-picking on the trails, Stewart says, “I like to tell people that pick our blackberries, most of which are of alien, thorny weeds that tend to dominate the landscapes that they invade, that they should never poop their seeds out in the wild, as their seeds could negatively impact our natural, native plant and animal community, that is already having enough trouble living with all of the alien weeds they are not adapted to living with, without the berry pickers acting as dispersers of these weedy seeds.”

There you have it, folks.

Have a favorite fruit-picking spot around Seattle you want to shout-out? Or know a geeky blackberry expert we should meet? Email [email protected] to let us know.

A previous version of this story identified King County Public Health spokesperson James Apa as “Frank” Apa. We’re sorry for the error.