If you are out venturing in the wild, camping, or hiking a trail, you may come across a bush of tasty looking, bright-colored berries that may raise your appetite.
There are a few wild berries that you can safely eat such as:
- Wintergreen berries
- Manzanita berries
- Saskatoon berries
- Agarita berry
- Barbados Cherry
You’ll find plenty of such wild berries in the mountains, trails and national parks. Don’t let the word “wild” misguide you as many wild berries are not only harmless to eat but are tasty as well.
You can consume them fresh from the plant or cook them to make pies, jams or preserves.
Even though most of them are harmless if eaten, however, beware as there are few poisonous ones as well. It’s crucial to know how to differentiate between the poisonous and edible wild berries for staying safe in the wild.
Otherwise, poisonous wild berries can easily make you sick, while others can prove fatal as well. They can also cause stomach and heart problems. Therefore, it’s recommended not to feed on wild berries unless necessary.
Edible wild berries
- Wintergreen berries
Wintergreen is among the groundcover plants with dark green leaves and produces red berries. These berries are also named as teaberries that are perfectly edible and are used in making some flavours of ice-creams and muffins.
Gooseberries are native to North America, Asia and some parts of Europe. They are small round berries and come in varying colours like red, purple and green. Their bushes can extend up to 1 to 1.8 meters in height. Gooseberries are available in both sweet and sour flavours. They are eaten raw and also used in making preserves, jams and wines. Moreover, they provide a decent dose of vitamin C and fibre due to the presence of an antioxidant named protocatechuic acid.
These berries belong to two major groups — American gooseberries (Ribes hirtellum) and European gooseberries (Ribes grossularia var. uva-crispa). The berries grow on erect, low, or sprawling bushes 3 to 6 feet tall with maple-like leaves and five-petaled flowers.
The flowers range from purple to greenish-white and produce nearly round, juicy, multiple-seeded fruit. The fruits range from black, yellow, and red to purple. Gooseberries are picked in the months between June and September.
Various species are found in numerous habitats, ranging from openings in the woods and swamps to fields and rocky areas. The berries vary in taste, from bitter to sweet, with most people preferring the latter. Ripe berries are eaten fresh or dried and added to food dishes to enhance their tastes. Moreover, they are added to pies, puddings, muffins, jams, syrups, and wines.
Like other wild berries, these fruits are high in antioxidants and other chemicals with proven health benefits. Gooseberries also contain anti-cancer agents that lower the risk of developing certain cancers.
- Manzanita berries
Manzanita berries come with silver and green ovals. Although the berries taste somewhat unpleasant due to the presence of tannin, however, manzanita berries have long been used for the production of cider.
Chokeberries, not to be confused with chokecherries, are typically found in eastern North America. A chokeberry shrub is medium-sized ranging from 5 to 7 feet in height. The berries preserve a sweet taste and show numerous health advantages as well. Chokeberries are known to help prevent cancer and some cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, its juice and is sold as a health drink. Also, chokeberries, due to their sweet taste, are often used to make jams and preserves.
Chokeberries are quite astringent and grow on a shrub that’s native to North America. Almost all handbooks on berries suggest that they can be eaten like blueberries. They have a bittersweet taste and can be eaten fresh, however, they’re mostly used in wines, spreads, jellies, jams, teas, and ice cream. The best way to use this fruit is to juice the berries, which makes them more delicious.
Chokeberries are of three major types — purple chokeberry (Aronia Purnifolia), red chokeberry (Aronia Arbutifolia), and black chokeberry (Aronia Melanocarpa). These berries typically grow in wet woods and swamps. The fruits are rich in vitamin K, a nutrient that helps promote bone health and is needed for vital bodily functions like proper blood clotting. According to studies, chokeberries contain powerful anti-cancer agents as well as improve cardiovascular health, amongst others.
Partridgeberries mainly grow in North America and eastern Canada. They are dark red and resembles a lot like cranberries but a bit smaller in size. Partridgeberries contains a decent amount of pectin, for which it is commonly used for making preserves and chutneys. Moreover, Partridgeberries were used to ease childbirth in the past. Therefore, they are safe to consume and are often cooked with chicken.
Mulberries have a very sturdy tree whose branches have been known to be used as stakes. They are abundant in nature, and you might have seen it a lot in the urban environment. Mulberries are present in both red, dark-purple and white colours. They are juicy, sweet, soft and look a lot like a blackberry. Since they are very soft and fragile, they are not commonly supplied to stores. The berries are made into jams, jellies, and their juice is also drunk. Moreover, they also have a good dose of vitamin C and fibre.
Mulberries are a group of flowering plants that are native to the subtropical regions in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. These berries grow in clusters and come in both red and white varieties. Some species can be black or dark purple. Mulberry trees are incredibly sturdy, and its branches are used as stakes.
They’ve long been harvested in North Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Southern Europe, and the Middle East. The trees are prevalent amongst Greeks. The tree is almost 70 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter. Mulberries are sweet and can be eaten fresh or in muffins, puddings, pies, cordials, and herbal teas.
Mulberries are rich in vitamin C and have adequate amounts of B vitamins, potassium, dietary fiber, riboflavin, and magnesium. Besides, 1 cup (140 grams) of mulberries provides a staggering 14% of your daily iron needs. This element is essential for the body’s vital processes, such as blood cell production, growth, and development.
Studies show that mulberries are rich in anti-cancer agents, weight loss properties, and protect your brain from damage. Moreover, mulberries are loaded with anthocyanins, which are plant pigments that have powerful antioxidants.
While the sweet and tangy taste is quite enjoyable, are legit superfruits, it isn’t the only reason to add wild blueberries to your breakfast cereal or morning smoothie. Since they contain twice as many health-boosting antioxidants as their cultivated counterparts, you get more protection.
Research states the secret lies in the skin – it is where the highest concentration of the antioxidant anthocyanin is found, and, pound for pound, wild blueberries have more skin than cultivated blueberries. You don’t have to worry that these superfruits will contribute to your waistline – there are only 80 calories in a cup.
Phytochemicals provide wild blueberries with antioxidant protection against the stress caused by intense sunlight and rigorous growing conditions. That is the reason why wild blueberries have higher anthocyanin content as compared to ordinary ones.
Possibly one of North America’s most natural crops, wild blueberries have an allure that extends far beyond the borders of Maine and Eastern Canada. It is hugely popular everywhere! Don’t forget that when you consume this wild, hardy fruit as a part of your diet, you are getting extra antioxidant protection.
Wild blueberries are generally much smaller in size than cultivated ones. They also vary in color from different shades of blue to almost black. They offer a higher skin-to-pulp ratio; meaning less water and more antioxidant-rich pigments, more fiber, and more intense blueberry flavor per serving. Ordinary blueberries are fairly uniform in their size, color and taste. They have more watery pulp, which means less antioxidant-rich pigments from the skin, less fiber and less intense flavor per serving.
The differences in taste color and size happens due to genetic diversity. Since wild blueberries are not planted or tampered with, they have no genetic engineering, which produces a very diverse crop. The uniformity of ordinary blueberries results from selective breeding and farming practices.
When you visualize a blueberry bush, you are probably thinking of cultivated blueberry bushes. They are found in straight rows and tower over the average person, so they are referred to as “highbush” too. Wild blueberry bushes are called “lowbush” as they spread low and wide through runners, covering fields in a random manner, so harvesters have to kneel down and reach them.
Wild blueberries are never planted. They grow wild in the thin glacial soils and harsh northern climate of Maine – as deemed by Mother Nature thousands of years ago. They grow naturally in fields and rocky hills called barrens – no on needs to plant them. Since they grow on their own, they are a low-maintenance crop. Field owners are hands-off throughout most of the growing season, although they often introduce bees to naturally pollinate the bushes. Wild blueberries have a two-year crop cycle, so owners prune fields every other year with rotary mowers. Ordinary blueberries have to be planted and harvested with care and planning. They come several highbush variety plants that are propagated and planted in many places around the world by man.
Due to the lowbush height and often rocky terrain, many wild blueberry fields cannot be harvested with traditional machinery, and must be hand-harvested. Hand-harvesters use rakes to scoop berries off the bushes, working in an upward motion. These rakes are specifically engineered for wild blueberry harvest. The harvest typically begins in late July and ends in early September.
Fresh ordinary blueberries are often picked before they are fully ripe and shipped thousands of miles after harvest, where they are often stored for weeks before ending up on supermarket shelves. Wild ones are harvested at the peak of Maine summer and a major portion is frozen fresh within 24 hours, so the taste and health benefits are intact when you buy them.
- Saskatoon berries
Saskatoon tree grows to a maximum height of 27 feet, and the berries it produces are perfectly edible. Saskatoon berries are sweet with a nutty flavour and are purple. They can be consumed fresh or dried into making jams. Moreover, they are used in making cider, wines and pies as well. Saskatoon berries are a good source of vitamin B2 that aids our body in energy production.
You will find them growing here and there. Watch out for faux strawberries aka snake berries.
Muscadines fruit hail from a high-climbing grapevine having spiked tendrils. They have yellowish-green flowers that bloom in early spring. Muscadine fruit has a sweet taste and can be eaten raw. Also, it is used to make juices, jams and jellies. Moreover, the leaves if muscadines are also used in salads after cooking. The dietary fibre enclosed inside the muscadine grapes helps to regulate blood’s cholesterol level.
Rosehips are produced on wild roses. These berries are red and usually grow in hedgerows. They contain a high volume of vitamin C for which they have long been consumed. However, they are ideally processed for making jelly and other products. Remember to get rid of its seed before ingesting because the seed consists of microscopic hairs that can irritate the mouth when eaten.
Elderberries are commonly found in subtropical regions and grow in the form of clusters in black or purple colors. They come with a tart taste for which they are cooked to make them into jams, wine and chutneys. They have to be sweetened by cooking or drying in the sun to remove the bitterness. Elderberries have a decent amount of vitamin C and particularly aids in boosting our immune system.
They are found in the Northwest US. They kinda look like blueberries.
Salmonberry – they look like large shiny yellow to orange-red blackberries. They are edible.
Buffaloberries – dark read with white dots. Bears eat them.
is a deciduous shrub that typically grows to around 3 feet tall and nearly as wide. It may also appear as a small tree with an abundance of flowers during its blooming season from late spring through early summer.
The bright red fleshy fruit and attractive color and texture makes the agarita berry popular for ornamental use in landscaping and making jams and jellies. The flavor of the juicy berries resemble that of grapes or blackberries depending on their acidity.
Barbados Cherry aka jelly palm is a common ornamental that may reach up to 30 feet tall. It typically produces clusters of fragrant white flowers followed by small red fruit from late summer all the way through early winter. Barbados cherries are not usually grown for their fleshy fruit, but rather as an attractive landscape specimen because it tends to produce abundant foliage and blooms year after year with little care.
The flavor of the fruit has been compared to that of grape jelly and various recipes recommend them for preserves and other food dishes featuring tropical flavors. They also have mild laxative properties similar to prunes and figs if eaten in large quantities.
Barberry – grows on evergreen shrub up to 15ft tall. The have yellow flowers that turn into red or blue-black berries.
Blackberry is a bramble fruit that grows as an arching shrub. It typically produces dark purple berries in the late summer and early fall. The fruit has a thin skin and firm flesh surrounding many tiny edible seeds and can range from sweet to tart depending on the variety.
There are several species of blackberries, with some varieties having tiny hairs on their stems and leaves while others do not, making them the most difficult berry to cultivate since they require careful maintenance during pruning season to ensure that all its branches remain free of any type of plant matter that could harbor disease or pests. They have characteristics such as long runners that root at the nodes and thorny stems.
Boysenberry is an interspecific hybrid cross of the European raspberry, blackberry and red currant. It typically produces large to very large fruit with a deep burgundy color that darkens as it ripens. The boysenberry fruit may be smooth or juicy with firm flesh surrounding many tiny edible seeds packed into its hollow center.
Boysenberries are sweet in taste, but can vary among different varieties depending on their acidity level. Some cultivars have been developed for over-the-counter sale since the early 20th century when they were popularized by prominent horticulturalist Luther Burbank.
Because of their popularity in home gardens, several varieties are available commercially. The boysenberry fruit is typically harvested in the early summer, but may be available year round depending on its growing conditions.
|Berry||Calories per cup|
Complete Guide – https://practicalselfreliance.com/edible-wild-berries-fruits/
There are many ways can aid you to differentiate. This includes identifying through color, size, stem, bushes, and taste, all of which requires one to be educated enough on the topic. There is a common misconception regarding the wild berries that white one is safe to eat, but the red ones will get you dead. However, there are many edible red berries and toxic white berries as well. Ironically, some wild berries are although not safe to consume when raw but are edible once cooked. Similarly, few berries are not toxic but still initiate symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.
If you are not keen enough, you might go for the wrong selection and get yourself into deep trouble. To avoid such deadly wild berries that you might come across, it’s best to be familiar with them and their plants. Below are mentioned some tips that you can act upon to clear your doubts.
1. Examine the plant
Firstly, have a detailed examination of the berries, flowers, leaves, roots, and stem of the plants. Inspect the shapes, colors, and branches of the plant and notice whether the plant grows in the form of bunches and clusters. Where and in which season do they grow? All the above questions will help you, notably to identify the edible berries.
2. Notice the color
The berries red, yellow or white growing in clusters should be avoided. Only half of the red-colored berries are considered edible. On the other hand, black and blueberries are typically non-poisonous.
3. Be familiar with the climate and region
If you know what kind of wild berries to look for in a particular climate or geographic region, it’ll save a considerable amount of time and energy. Certain wild berries are only restricted to a particular area in a certain season. Therefore, you can start your search from the area where the probability of finding the wild berry is most high.
For instance, areas like sunny patches and old pastures can provide you with blackberries and raspberries. Blueberries are commonly found in acidic places such as rocky, sunny areas and sandier soil. You’ll find strawberries near forest edges or streams.
4. Look for common berries
Most of the berries that we consume in our daily life such as blackberries, strawberries and raspberries etc. are found in the wild as well. These wild berries are just as edible as the one found in your nearby store. However, the wild counterpart of these berries is typically a little smaller in size. Therefore, if you are out in the wild and looking for some wild berries to feed on, its best to start with the one you are already familiar with. This way, you don’t have to take any risk when in search of edible wild berries. However, it’s always to best to rinse clean the berries with water before eating.
5. Consult a guide
Whenever you are going out in the wild, it’s best to carry along an identification guide for edible and non-edible wild plants/berries. These guides will not only contain detailed information about common wild berries but will use clear photos of each to illustrate the difference. Also, you might find information relevant to the plants and berries found in that particular area explain where and in which season they grow.
If your local wildlife authority does not provide any such guides, then you can always revert to the internet for help. Look for the related information over the internet and print a copy of the one you find suitable. Take this copy with you when on a trip into the wilderness.
6. Hire a professional
If you don’t want to sweat yourself, you can always hire a professional expert in the knowledge of wild plants and vegetation. This way, you can easily point out edible berries from poisonous one without getting your head into books.
7. Study the bushes and trees
Apart from focusing only on the berry, studying the bushes or trees can also help you identify whether the particular wild berry is edible or not. Doing so is important because some edible berries have the same looking poisonous counterpart as well. The only way to identify the difference between the two is to look for their bushes and stems that can reveal enough information. For instance, elderberries look very similar to water hemlock berries that are highly poisonous. Water hemlock has greenish herbaceous stems while the stems of elderberries are woody. Use your guide where needed to spot the difference. It is recommended not to eat the berries if you are confused regarding its edibleness since taking chances on your well being may not be the best idea, especially if you are in the wild.
Some common features that indicate poisonous wild berries are:
- Milky sap
- Hairy stems
- Bitter stems
8. Taste the berries
As a last resort, you can taste the wild berry and let its flavour speak for its edibleness. Remember, you only have to taste and not ingest the wild berry. Ingesting will spread the poison in your body that can eventually be proved deadly. If the taste of a berry seems somewhat sweet or familiar, then chances are the berries are safe. However, if the flavor is bitter, unpleasant or unfamiliar, it could most likely be a poisonous one so spit it out at once. If symptoms like pain, nausea, abdomen cramps do not occur, then most likely the berry is safe to eat.
Generally, you’ll be poisoned by the wild berries only if you ingest them. However, there are a few kinds of berries that are an exception to this. For instance, poison ivy can be proved fatal even if tasted. Poison should not be your only worry when planning to feed on wild berries. Few wild berries are although not poisonous but are acidic enough to make you sick, for example, American mountain ash. Such berries should be avoided to consume raw. However, they can be eaten when cooked with meals.
9. Does it cause irritation?
Another indicator of poisonous wild berries is that they may irritate the skin when rubbed on. Crush a berry and rub its juice the skin. Wait for some time and notice if the berry juice has caused any irritation on the skin. If it does irritate, this indicates that the berry is poisonous and not fit to eat. However, this doesn’t mean that the berries that do not cause skin irritation are necessarily non-poisonous.
10. Avoid herbicide plants
Chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides can turn fine berries into poisonous one. Therefore, smell the berry to figure out whether it is covered in chemicals or not. If yes, avoid the berry at all cost. However, if you are in doubt, its best to rinse the berry clean with water before eating.
11. Don’t follow the animals
Note that if animals consume a particular wild berry, it does not implies that the berry is safe for human consumption as well. It is for the basic reason that humans and other animals have contrasting digestive capabilities.
Remember to eat only a small quantity of wild berries that too if necessary. Even if you do not observe any signs or symptoms that the berry is a poisonous one, its recommended to eat only enough to keep you alive. Otherwise, there is no need to risk it. If you notice any symptoms of toxicity such as vomiting, nausea, shock or hallucinations, then it’s time to visit a doctor or call poison control at once.
Never eat a wild berry if you are not aware of it: Few poisonous berries look precisely the same as wild edible ones. Do your homework before going to pick wild berries. Study the different types of berries and the leaves and twigs as well.
Beware of the berry picking rules of the locality: For instance, in Washington D.C., you must stay in particular areas to pick huckleberries. Additionally, there is a limit conserving the number of berries you can pick in a day.
Take a companion and a mobile phone with you: The chances of you having a pleasant or uneventful experience cannot be predicted, so it’s better to be safe. While you go for it, take a compass, food, map, gear, and an extra bottle of water. Since you’ll be in a wild area, don’t forget to pack mosquito repellent and sunscreen. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
What to do if a poisonous wild berry is ingested?
Wildlife produces a variety of deciduous trees, bushes and shrubs that give rise to many bright-coloured berries. These berries often attract animals, birds and sometimes humans as well. However, what we may not realize that many such wild berries are toxic to humans and domestic animals. Therefore, feeding on them may prove to be deadly or cause serious health issues and illnesses. Such poisonous wild berries grow all over the world in one form or another, especially in the wilderness. Therefore, we must avoid eating them intentionally or accidentally. However, if by accident, one ingests poisonous wild berries, it’s time to realize the severity of the situation and act fast as the very life of that person may be depending upon it.
- Know the symptoms
The first step in knowing whether or not you have accidentally ingested a toxic wild berry is to notice the symptom that you may be feeling after eating the berry.
Many of the evergreen shrubs, such as yew and holly, are toxic to some extent. Eating them will give rise to symptoms like:
- Vomiting, diarhea, dizzyness, fever, blurred vision
In the worst-case scenario, it may even cause death. Each berry may hold a different set of symptoms at varying severity level. For instance, eating holly berries may cause nausea, drowsiness, diarrhea and vomiting. Yew berries may bring on more severe consequences such as breathing difficulty, drowsiness, abdomen cramps, vomiting or even death.
Most of the deciduous trees are known to produce edible wild berries. However, some evergreen berries are toxic to humans and some animals. Such toxic berries include red and white baneberry, few species of daphne, Brazilian nightshade, red sage, and jasmine evergreen berries.
Not to forget, some of these berries can have fatal consequences as well.
- Immediate treatment
As soon as you realize the berry you just ate might be poisonous, spit it out and remove any portion of the berry still left in your mouth. Check if any swelling, burning sensation or irritation is taking place that would suggest that the poison has started taking its effect.
Next, call the poison control center immediately whether the symptoms have appeared or not.
After doing so, wash out your mouth thoroughly and drink a few sips of milk or water. Collect a piece of the particular toxic berry that you are and keep it with yourself when you leave for the hospital. This would allow the doctors to get a better idea of the kind of poison that you might have ingested. This way, they can start the treatment at once.
- Call the poison control center
If children or even adult accidentally ingest toxic berries or other toxic parts of the plant, it’s time to seek medical assistance as soon as possible to restrict the damage. You can do so by immediately calling the poison control centre of your locality. Such places are usually open 24/7 and therefore will respond accordingly. They have their staff typically consisting of doctors, nurses and pharmacists along with other experts who will firstly guide you on the phone what to do at the moment.
The staff at the poison control center will explain how to respond at the spot if a toxic berry or plant has poisoned you. Also, they’ll give you any other information or advice related to the topic under discussion if needed. Thus, their advice might be enough to treat yourself without visiting a hospital. Look for the contact number of your area’s poison control center and keep it saved with yourself, especially when going on outdoor trips.
Whether you are a wilderness lover or a home gardener, you may never know whether the plants and berries that you came across daily or occasionally might be poisonous. If such wild berries are ingested, they are able enough to either cause serious health problems or death to both children and adults. Therefore, such berry plants must be dealt with utmost seriousness to ensure the safety of your children, pet and yourself. To prevent any such poison from reaching to your body, you can follow some general safety tips.
- Identifying the berries
A forehand knowledge of the wild berries and their plants that grow in your garden, locality or wilderness can help you a great deal. You can do so by consulting your local wildlife community office, nearby greenhouse or through the internet. Once you have the essential knowledge needed, next time you don’t have to wonder whether a certain wild berry is edible or not before eating it.
If you have a problem memorizing all the tiny details, you can keep a book or guide with yourself whenever you go out in the wilderness or for a hike. For your garden, you can use weather-proof tags with the name of the certain plant written on it and embed it on the shrub. This way you won’t forget the name of the plant or the type of berry it produces.
- Don’t eat unless you’re sure
Whether it is a wild berry or some mushroom, don’t even bring it close to the mouth unless you are certain that it is safe to eat. If you find yourself in a survival situation in the wild, taking chances with the wild berries might not be the best choice. This is because many toxic wild berries look just like the berries that are considered safe to eat. Therefore, restrain yourself from feeding on wild berries if you feel like you still have to guess whether it’s edible or not.
- Remove poisonous berry plants from your garden
Once you have the required knowledge on toxic berries, you can easily point out which wild berries are to be prevented. Having done so, now you’ll know which plants in your garden or area impose a threat. Therefore, to keep your children or others around you safe, you can remove all such toxic berry plants from your garden.
- Keep the children safe
Understandably, some toxic wild berry plants such as mistletoe are used for decorations. You might be growing them yourself so might not want to remove them. So, what you can do is encapsulate such berry plants with plant protectors or row covers and label them with their name. Dictate your children not to go near them and keep an eye out for them as well. Also, teach your children how to differentiate between edible and non-edible wild berries.
How to identify edible and non-edible wild berries?
Below are some common poisonous wild berries that you must avoid.
Poisonous wild berries
Mistletoes are widely used for Christmas decorations. They have white and sometimes pink berries grown in the form of clusters. Not only the berries but leaves and the entire plant is toxic and must not be eaten.
In fact, the leaves of mistletoe are more toxic than its berries. Even though a small number of berries if eaten won’t cause much harm, but still you’ll be able to feel symptoms such as stomach cramps and blurred vision. One must avoid ingesting a large amount of the mistletoe berries.
Mistletoe is an evergreen plant that grows white berries and attaches itself to trees and plants. According to Medieval and Nordic mythology, it symbolizes peace, friendship, and love. Mistletoe is dangerous for consumption and is used in festive decorations traditionally.
The berries are poisonous to eat, although it is not certain whether it results in death. All parts of Mistletoe are toxic, containing proteins such as Phoratoxin and Viscotoxin. There are more than 1500 types of Mistletoe globally, and some are more toxic than others.
The berries are likely to induce a severe reaction when eaten rather than taken with tea made of leaves, but symptoms range from mild to severe.
This wild wine produces berries that resemble a lot like grape and is therefore often confused for grapes. Wild grapes are safe to eat. However, it is poisonous all the way from stem to root. Similarly, the berries are toxic enough and can be fatal if ingested enough. The chief toxic in moonseed is an alkaloid named dauricine.
Grows on vine up to 6 feet tall and are common in North America.
Wild grapes may taste sweet or sour; meanwhile, moonseed berries have an awful taste. Also, moonseed does not have spiked tendrils, unlike grapevine. Therefore, if you come across such a plant with the stated features, avoid it at all cost even if you are in doubt.
Moonseeds have a single crescent-shaped seed, compared to
grapes that have round seeds. The fruit is 6–10 cm in diameter and is formed into clusters of purple-black berries, each berry is 1–1.5 cm in diameter.
- Holly berries
Holly berries contain an alkaloid named theobromine that is common to caffeine and chocolate. Eating these berries in large amounts could prove to be fatal. Therefore, its best to keep these berries out of reach from kids and animals as well.
The branches, leaves, and berries of the holly plant are used in festive decorations, but the berries are harmful for consumption for both humans and animals alike. Eating a couple of holly berries may result in drowsiness, diarrhea, dehydration, and vomiting. Similar symptoms were found in children after swallowing as few as two berries.
On the other hand, holly leaves cause symptoms if eaten, but people usually avoid touching them because they are prickly.
To prevent poisoning, remove the berries before using them in holiday decorations. Even if the berries are kept at a distance, they tend to dry out quickly at indoor temperatures. Later, they fall to the ground where pets and children can promptly gobble them.
A chokecherry plant is known for its wide canopies and beautiful shapes. They are common in most of the world, especially U.S. However, most of us might not realize that the berries that chokecherries produce are highly toxic to both animals and humans. Although the flesh of chokecherry berries are safe to consume, the seeds contain a toxic chemical known as glycoside which is somewhat similar to cyanide that can cause death if ingested in large amounts. If enough seeds are eaten, you may start feeling its symptoms such as vomiting, headaches, high blood pressure and dizziness.
- Jerusalem cherry
Jerusalem cherries store solanocapsine, which is responsible for causing vomiting and gastric problems if ingested. These berries have a lot of resemblance with orange cherry tomatoes and therefore can be mistaken for tomatoes by the children. Moreover, these berries are also toxic to some animals and birds. They are also known as winter cherry.
They grow naturally in Peru and Ecuador. They are a species of nightshade.
Pokeweed is mainly found in open areas, roadside and pastures in the form of a wide bushy plant that shows quick growth. It has a strong taproot, purple berries with large leaves and produces berries mainly in fall. Entire plant along with the berries are extremely toxic and can prove hazardous if ingested. There have been cases of livestock to be poisoned due to feeding on pokeweed leaves. Therefore, immediately destroy pokeweed if you found it growing on your property.
- Yew seeds
The yew berry seeds are considered to be highly poisonous that can cause death in a very short time. The yew seeds contain a poisonous alkaloid named taxenes. This alkaloid has the highest composition in the seed; meanwhile, the fruit itself does not contains taxenes. Although the flesh itself is edible, still you must eat only in a small amount that too if necessary for survival.
- White Baneberry
Also known as the doll’s eyes, white baneberry can easily be identified due to its distinctive white berry with a black pupil at the centre. The baneberry plant has pink stems giving it an attractive look. The entire plant is toxic and composes of a chemical called cardiogenic that can potentially cause cardiac arrest if eaten. The symptoms of poisoning by baneberry include stomach cramps, nausea, headaches, and burning sensations.
- Ivy berries
All species of ivy berries have some composition of poison and therefore are best to be avoided. Ivy berries stores needle-like crystals named oxalates known for causing swelling and pain in the face, lips and skin. Kinds of ivy berries include poison ivy, English creepers and Boston ivy, all of which are considered to be toxic and unsafe to eat.
- Castor bean plant
Found mainly in tropical regions of East Africa, castor bean plant is easily one of the most toxic and deadly plants known. They typically grow in moist soil and farm fields. The castor bean plant’s seeds contain a deadly toxin called ricin. Ricin is known to be one of the most deadly natural toxic. Ingesting only as much as four seeds is enough to kill an adult. Consuming only one seed can result in symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and nausea. If by chance you have this plant growing in your yard, remove it at once, especially if you have children, pets or livestock.
Virginia creeper, aka Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Victoria creeper, five-leaved ivy, five-finger, woodbine. It is found growing in North America and considered an invasive non-native plant in the UK.
It grows on a vine, and looks similar to poison-ivy. Produces hard purple-black berries of 6mm in size. They are toxic to humans but not birds.
Bittersweet, aka bitter nightshade grows on a vine and is toxic to people and some animals. The berry is bright red with oval shape about 1 cm, unripe berries are green. Non-native to North America.
Why Are Some Berries Poison?
Surprisingly, bananas and coffee are berries, but strawberries are not. Eggplants and cucumbers are berries, but raspberries are not. Don’t let it worry you because there are a number on anomalies in the food kingdom… For example, apples are not fruit—they’re pseudocarps, or false-fruits—but that is a discussion for another day.
Scientifically, we understand the mechanism for berries—that some produce toxins and some don’t—and that toxins are often more prevalent in immature fruit than ripe fruit. We also know that these toxins only affect some animals, partially affect others, and can be either always poisonous or non-poisonous to specific groups.
Why all this complexity? What is the evolutionary advantage to these various states? This is one of those areas where we have to enter the theoretical realm because there are no plants with YouTube channels providing “How-To” videos for plant success.
Most toxins in plants did not evolve to affect animals. Surprised? Poisons were actually an evolutionary adaptation that was toxic to viruses, bacteria, and later, to parasitic insects. All this occurred long before there were land animals. However, things change over time…
Spreading Far & Wide
Assorted insects are terrific for cross-pollination between related plants that are at some distance from each other. This is one of evolution’s cleverest solutions for increasing genetic information exchange. Plants give insects some sugar-water (nectar) and nutrients, and the insects then shuttle around pollen.
Good traits are passed on; bad traits fade away; accidental variations (mutations) get an opportunity to thrive or fail. It should be noted, of course, that mutations almost always fail. Successful enhancements are rare compared to the number of opportunities to do something completely useless.
Ah, yes…but how did that plant arrive at a spot “at some distance” from its parent plant?
The Least Efficient System
We’ve known for years that seeds are generally created inside of berries and other fruit so that the seeds have some basic starting materials with which to grow. That material provides the energy the seed needs to get a good start. Often it is full of carbohydrates (sugars) for energy, enzymes, proteins, and assorted nutrients.
If it happens to fall off near the base of the parent plant, it may be far enough way to obtain sunlight and other needs, and perhaps even succeed and grow. Many of those berries might end up shaded by the parent plant and never germinate at all.
With luck, over a season, a “patch” of successful plants might grow by one or two “plant-widths”, which could take decades just to cover an area ten times the size of the original plant. That is very slow, and there is a better way…
The Poop Express
Three billion years ago plants developed, by creating a methodology for making their own food with local resources, powered by sunlight. Their pollution by-product, in the form of poisonous, toxic oxygen, was changing the atmosphere of Earth.
Once adapted to it, this new oxygen chemistry allowed much faster energy conversion than had ever been possible before. It kicked evolution into high gear, stimulating the evolution of walking land animals.
This fruit that the plants were making was full of things those animals needed, too. Here was all this healthy material, conveniently concentrated in one spot, and free for the taking.
Those plants with hardy enough seeds, that could survive a trip through an animal’s intestinal tract, found themselves in a completely new location—with their very own pile of high quality fertilizer to give them an excellent start to life.
Weak seeds perished; tough seeds persisted and made more tough seeds. They were exchanging their starting chemicals for a warm poop-home with complex chemicals and abundant bacteria available for them to use. There was now an excellent chance they would evolve faster (albeit over thousands of years), and spread “far & wide”.
Plants need certain elements and molecules to thrive, such as phosphorous, potassium, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and many more. Making sugars such as glucose, starch, and cellulose, is a lot more complicated than most people think.
A plant doesn’t just mash together some carbon and hydrogen and make sugar. It is a heavy energy investment to make carbohydrates, so protecting that investment is helpful.
Some plants, while learning to make the chemicals they need, also stumbled upon chemicals which they don’t need, called secondary chemicals. For example, let’s say you connected some nitrogen and hydrogen and made ammonia (NH3). That would make a plant smell unattractive to animals, and taste a lot worse.
If this just happened to be an intermediate stage while the fruit was maturing, and it went away upon maturity, animals would avoid eating the fruit until it was ripe. Score 1 for the plant and its likely survival.
Good Animals/Bad Animals
An accidental evolution that caused thorns (or prickles, e.g. thistle) might not have had an apparent use until some plant that was experiencing poor “spread” suddenly became more successful with thorns, and so thorns flourished.
Why? Mammals climbing plants to eat berries and other fruits probably don’t wander very far away, so plants have limited spread with mammals. Birds, on the other hand, cover vast distances. They can also land on a plant and avoid those defenses… They are better spreaders, and eat less. Score 2 for the plant through that lucky bit of evolution.
Now, imagine that a plant produces a chemical by-product from a different process, which it doesn’t particularly need, and it just accumulates in its tissues. If this chemical is annoying to those inefficient mammals, but doesn’t affect birds, Score 3 for that plant. The relatively useless mammals will avoid it, and birds will be attracted to it.
Just to up the game a bit, let’s say some of those secondary chemicals aren’t boring old camouflage green pigment, but rather bright red, white, yellow, contrasting black, or even purple, and blue. This higher level of visibility makes them easier to see, and thus they have a better chance of traveling far, inside a bird… Score 4 for the plant.
Finally, remember that both nicotine and caffeine are insecticides for plants. They help to keep the plant healthy by repelling damaging insects. How they affect our biochemistry and how humans use them is just incidental.
Urushiol, the chemical that powers poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and one of the nastiest of all, poisonwood trees, (fortunately only found in very limited areas near saltwater coasts in Florida) isn’t just in the leaves. Their berries can be fatal if eaten because the same reaction can occur in the stomach lining as on the skin.
In fact, urushiol isn’t even destroyed by fire. If you burn any part of these plants, the urushiol becomes airborne and can kill people and pets standing downwind of the fire by causing severe respiratory problems.
The effects can be as far away as the smoke can reach… Did you ever smell burning leaves in autumn, even when the neighbor is far away? That’s how far urushiol can travel when burned.
Not Always Deadly
On the other hand, the White Crown Pigeon is seriously endangered. Its primary food source is the poisonous berries of the poisonwood tree. Those trees are so toxic that urushiol oozes through the bark as it drips off the branches. An unsuspecting hiker can have a ridiculously powerful allergic reaction without ever knowing where it came from…
Consider deer or moose for a moment. Their diet is extremely varied. They eat toxic berries that are bad for them, but they eat them despite that, in small amounts, because there are other nutrients they need in those poisonous berries. How do they deal with it?
They eat complementary vegetation, some which may counteract the poisons. They also lick clay, not just for the mineral content that may be lacking in their food supply, but because clays bind with some of the toxic chemicals they ingest. Some humans eat clay, too, especially in poorer countries where a balanced diet is hard to achieve.
On top of that, many ruminants (plant eaters) have multiple stomachs because their food is hard to digest. The first two stomachs (rumen-reticulum) contain colonies of bacteria that can break down these toxins, turning them instead into nutrients that the animal needs.
The bacterial colonies constantly evolve as the diet changes over the season. For example, deer don’t eat grass—they prefer forbs and shrubs instead. Many eat flowers, leaves, and fallen apples when available, but can also manage on just sticks and twigs during some of the year. For them, poison berries are just a food that they eat occasionally.
Do Plants Target Humans?
Plants haven’t been around humans long enough to evolve defenses against us—evolution is much slower than that. We’ve selectively bred plants to engender qualities that we desire far faster than evolution ever could.
For example, Teosinte was a plant from Mexico some 8,700 years ago that had eight tough grains per stalk. Humans selected those that had nine, or ten grains per stalk and cross-pollinated them. They eventually had offspring that had 12 or 13 grains. We selected for color, softness, sweetness, and how easily we could remove them from where they grew.
This continued for centuries until those stalks now have 16 rows with 50 kernels on each row of a mature plant. The only difference is that we now call it “maize” or “corn”. There’s your GMO! We’ve been Genetically Modifying things since history began—all food is GMO when you think about it.
So, why are some berries poison? Many plants are only temporarily poisonous to protect their berries until maturity. Others are poisonous to animals that won’t benefit the plant as much as others that do not react to its toxins. Some plants are not seriously poisonous above ground, but deadly if you eat the roots—that plant can regrow as long as the roots are safe.
All-in-all, plants have evolved very well to survive, and this is good because they support the entire food structure for the entire planet. Without plants, everything on Earth dies.
Ultimately, it was chance that gave evolutionary adaptations of poison useful features to keep the “wrong” animals away. Something that only evolved to fight bacteria and viruses remained useful to aid the plant’s perpetuation.
The funny thing is that we look at it as if the plants planned it that way, but the truth is, plants survive because they suit the environment. If they didn’t, they would die and by replaced by something that was more suitable.
Billions of species of plants and animals have evolved and gone extinct since the Earth became habitable. The ones that are here now are the ones that best suit the environment. And that includes humans…
As soon as we don’t belong here, we’ll be replaced by something better suited to this planet… So pick up that trash, and remember to recycle… or you may be deemed “unsuitable” by evolution…