Bicycling with purple finger syndrome

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A strange malady strikes my hands on bicycle rides during the latter days of August. I call it purple finger syndrome.

Blackberry pickin’

The digits of my right hand suffer the worst, turning a deep bluish purple by the time I return home from a ride. It clears up after a shower, only to beset me again during the next ride.

The cause of the malady is the Himalayan blackberry plant, whose deep purple juice stains my fingers as the ripest berries explode in my grasp.

The Himalayan blackberry, and its cousin the evergreen blackberry, are considered Class C Noxious Weeds in this part of the Pacific Northwest.

I’d hazard to guess that most people curse the invasive weed 10 or 11 months of the year, chopping and digging to prevent it from taking over back yards, fields and sunny spots in the woods.

That other month, however, people head out in long-sleeved shirts to reach among the thorny vines for the succulent sweet berries.

My first taste of the blackberries came Saturday as I returned from a ride to Black Diamond. I had stopped at the bakery there and scarfed down a couple of peanut butter cookies.

They gave me a boost of energy, but that sugar rush eventually passed and I was left high and dry by the time I was heading along Lake Washington. Fortunately, I already knew where to find the ripest berries (on bushes facing the south or west) so I modified my bike route to pass them.

A good 5 minutes of grazing took care of my hunger and gave me the energy to finish the ride home.

Luther Burbank

Oddly enough, the Himalayan blackberry is said to be the creation of famed horticulturist Luther Burbank. Ironic that he developed a plant that’s considered a noxious weed.

When he wasn’t improving the potato, peach or nectarine, he did some work with blackberry seeds he had received from India. The idea was to create a blackberry bush for cultivation, but things got out of hand.

There’s a park named for him on Mercer Island. One of the groundskeepers’ major tasks is preventing wild Himalayan blackberries from taking over the park.

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