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Berried... or Buried!

In my travels teaching about wild foods I occasionally come across folks who ask about various 'yardsticks' for identifying poisonous and nonpoisonous berries. For example: 'that red berries are okay to eat but black ones not', and vice versa. hen I hear such !uackish fiction a little shiver runs through me and I wonder if the originators of such buffoonish rules of thumb are still alive or buried six feet under, although it must be said that "asputin was apparently pretty resilient to cyanide - for a while at least. #o I thought, as we head into the season of festive cheer and holly-drenched sitting rooms, it might be worth reviewing some of the berries that foragers may encounter on our $% shores. &he berries have been divided into reds and blacks' edible ones first followed by the toxic and inedible ones. &here is no hard and fast rule as to edibility as you will see, and there are other poisonous berried plants which have not been included. If you are hesitant about the identification of a berry as one of the edible ones ()*+) I& *(,-) and find something else to eat. &he berry of the .) is one that you are advised to leave well alone unless you already have the appropriate knowledge. RED / ORANGE BERRIES WILD ROSE / ROSEHIP /Rosa0 &here are many varieties of wild rose which produce hips with different physical characteristics. &he true dog rose /Rosa canina0 hip is oval and without a 'beard' of sepals. &hose of the harsh downy rose /R. tomentosa0 have finely lobed sepals, those of the field rose /R. arvensis0 are more rounded with the sepals scarcely lobed, and the soft downy-rose /R. mollis0 has five sepals. 1ips are a good source of vitamin 2 and have a slightly acid taste with a hint of sweetness. HAWTHORN /Crataegus0 &here are numerous types of hawthorn worldwide, but C. monogyna is perhaps the most fre!uent inhabitant of the 3ritish Isles. &he red fruits have a large stone surrounded by a creamy-white flesh which is very slightly sweet, but fre!uently kicks in with a nasty


after-taste. &he berries can be used in conserves, and a haw berry wine is possible. #eek professional medical advice before consuming the berries if you have a cardiac or circulatory disorder. 4ersonally, I do not tolerate hawthorn berries well. ROWAN / MOUNTAIN ASH /Sorbus aucuparia0 *lthough the rowan is associated with high upland terrains it is also fre!uently found in lowland areas and urban environments where the clusters of bright orange-red berries make a colourful autumn splash. 1igh in vitamin 2 the berries can be made into a 5elly which goes well with game meats, though on their own the berries do not taste pleasant. In the past an alcoholic li!uor called diodgriafel was brewed from the berries in ales' the process, according to an 67th. century traveller to the region involving: '...pouring water over them 8berries9, and setting the infusion to ferment. When kept for some times, this is by no means an unpleasant liquor...' :iven the ingenuity of ;an no doubt similar potions were made in other parts of the world. ,ne 67th. century 3otanist < 4hysician commented that: ' he fruit dried and reduced to powder make wholesome bread.' hether he had ever conducted such an exercise personally he does not mention.


Sorbus aucuparia

GUELDER ROSE /!iburnum opulus0 * fre!uent shrubby inhabitant of moist and wet ground. ,ften growing alongside sallow and alder buckthorn, guelder leaves are maple-like in appearance. *lthough the berries are edible they ;$#& be cooked, and are a very good source of vitamin 2. &hat said, they have a peculiar after-taste which needs masking with lots of sugar and<or honey 8as one "ussian recipe used9, while the ripe berries smell rather foul. ,n the only occasion I made a small amount of 5elly from the berries a little of the smell lingered, while the the aftertaste reminded me of a cough medicine I'd had when young. Indeed, further research revealed that guelder rose was used in cough medicines.

!iburnum opulus

SEA BUCKTHORN /"ippophae rhamnoides0 * good vitamin source the berries - which eventually turn orange-yellow - sometimes remain on this coastal shrub through the winter. *cidtasting, the berries can be a little too astringent for many foragers but they might make a !uite good conserve with the addition of sugar. 1owever, a few ripe raw berries nibbled on the trail give a wonderfully refreshing citrus-like acid hit.

"ippophae rhamnoides

WHITEBEAM /Sorbus aria0 &here are several varieties of hitebeam and I cannot say that I have had occasion to try them, although supposedly they may be eaten once they have started to 'blet' 8being softened by frost, like medlars9. &here are references to them being used in vinegar, spirits and also in bread. HONEYSUCKLE /#onicera periclymenum0 * climbing plant of hedgerows, woodland margins and thickets, the stems entwine themselves round other shrubs. &he red berries are ever so slightly sweet, being more seed than flesh. *s not much is known about the nature of the berries I would suggest that you are extremely cautious if you decide try them, and do not try 'domesticated' varieties which might have had their chemical constituent content altered through plant breeding. =o not ingest the seed and do check your personal tolerance first. YEW / a$us baccata0 "egarded as one of THE mo ! "oi o#ou $#d de$d%& plant materials around the scarlet berries of yew contain a slightly sugary gloop surrounding the seed and which can be extracted by +)". :)-&(. s!uee>ing the berry. &he i##er 'ro(#) '%$*+ eed i de$d%& "oi o#ou and must not be eaten. If you wish to try the yew berry sap it is )##)-&I*( to check your personal tolerance before trying. In any event only try the sap of one or two berries as a larger !uantity might well contain a sufficient build up of toxins which could cause harm. ,ne best left to foraging professionals.


#onicera periclymenum

a$us baccata HIGHLY TO,IC

BLACK BRYONY / amus communis0 ;ore common in the south of 3ritain the shiny scarlet berries of this climbing hedgerow and woodland margin plant are -i.-%& "oi o#ou . &he clusters of berries, have an almost twining, vine-like, posture which is not really obvious in the picture. BITTERSWEET /Solanum dulcamara0 *lso known as woody nightshade the poisonous berries of this scrambling hedgerow and woodland plant are slightly egg-shaped' starting life as a green fruit, and passing through a yellow stage before taking on their final red colouration. &he petals of the bright purple flowers generally curve slightly backward towards the flower stalk, certainly in older plants. SPINDLE /%uonymus europaeus0 &his small, and mostly inconspicuous, tree or shrub produces bright reddish-pink, lobed, poisonous fruits in the autumn. &he fruit capsules eventually split open to reveal a bright orange seed /not seen in the picture0.

amus communis HIGHLY TO,IC

Solanum dulcamara TO,IC

%uonymus europaeus HIGHLY TO,IC HOLLY /&le$ aquifolium0 &his prickly species needs no introduction. &he red berries are formed on the female tree and are poisonous.

&le$ aquifoilum TO,IC

BUTCHER/S BROOM /Ruscus aculeatus0 *n evergreen low, shrub-like, plant of woodland and scrubby areas, with leaves that end in a prickly point. *lthough the species has some edible !ualities the berries are -,& for human consumption. Ruscus aculeatus TO,IC

BLACK / PURPLE / BLUE BERRIES BILBERRY /!accinium myrtyllus0 * lover of acid soils, particularly high moorland and heath, the bilberry provides the forager with a vitamin-rich fruit with a purple bloom. *lso known as whortleberry and blaeberry the fruits may be eaten raw or cooked. &hey make a wonderful bilberry pie. DAMSON /'runus domestica0 #ometimes called bullace, the damson provides an excellent, if somewhat sour, plum-like fruit in the autumn months. &he fruits fre!uently have a purplish bloom and are about the si>e of a large grape. &hey are made into 5ams, pies and wines, and make a wicked damson-vodka, e!uivalent of sloe gin.

!accinium myrtyllus

'runus domestica

COMMON ELDER /Sambucus nigra0 )lder probably needs no introduction and is a fre!uent inhabitant of rich soils. &he !uality of the berries, which are a good source of vitamin 2, can be a bit variable - sometimes being a little bitter, at others mild tasted but not sweet. #ome

folks react badly to the berries. SLOE /'runus spinosa0 3lue-black sloes, with their bloom, are the fruit of the blackthorn shrub<tree. )xtremely tart, acid and astringent the berries make a good conserve 8sloe and apple is a good combination9 and are the essential ingredient for #loe :in. Incidentally, don't throw away the 'spent' sloes 8or damsons from your damson vodka9 as they can still make a good 5am or conserve. I0Y /"edera heli$0 *nother very common climbing plant which needs little introduction. ,nce pollinated often by wasps - the globular flower heads produce ribbed black berries which are poisonous.

Sambucus nigra

'runus spinosa

"edera heli$ HIGHLY TO,IC TUTSAN /"ypericum androsaemum0 * member of the #t. ?ohn'sort family tutsan is a shrublike plant of damp hedgerows and woodland. Initially green the berries become red, finally ripening to a purple-black colour. *lthough used in herbal medicine the berries should not be consumed as a foodstuff and regarded as toxic.

"ypericum androsaemum TO,IC

SOME OTHER RED 1 BLACK POISONOUS BERRIES LILY)O2)THE)0ALLEY /Convallaria ma(alis0. 4oisonous red berry. In the absence of flowers<buds the leaves of this plant may be mistaken for the garlicky ramsons /)llium ursinum0, however the smell of garlic is absent in convallaria. BLACK NIGHTSHADE /Solanum nigrum0. :reen berries turning black when ripe.

DEADLY NIGHTSHADE /)tropa belladonna0. 1ighly poisonous black berries. DOGWOOD /Cornus sanguinea0. &he clusters of black berries which form in the autumn are bitter and inedible. HERB PARIS /'aris quadrafolia0. 4oisonous black berry.

NE0ER !$+e $#& *-$#*e (i!- 'errie . I3 &ou do #o! re*o.#i4e $ 'err& $ 'ei#. o#e o3 !-e edi'%e o#e DON/T PUT IT ANYWHERE NEAR YOUR MOUTH.