If you are ever in a dire situation and need to eat some berries for whatever reason, it’s a good idea to know the difference between those that are safe and those that are toxic. All kinds of wild berries are delicious, containing essential vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that promote tissue, organ, brain health, and mental function. There are many toxic berries in the wilderness too, so it’s essential to know which ones to avoid. Ill effects include diarrhea, nausea, organ failure, and even death. You should consider purchasing the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants to add to your arsenal.
The Good Berries
- Huckleberry: Native to North America, these resemble blueberries in shape and texture and can be red or black. At peak freshness, they are tart yet sweet and are a great addition to pies, pastries, desserts, and beverages. Other blueberry-look-alike berries are toxic, so be sure you are eating an actual huckleberry.
- Mulberry: In both northern and southern hemispheres, mulberries are common. They resemble a large, misshapen raspberry and are a bit darker in color. Mulberries are sweet, juicy, and are delicious in pie fillings, preserves, and syrups. Herbal teas also often contain mulberries, as they are packed with vitamins and minerals.
- Muscadine: In North America, these berries sprout from a grapevine species and are black, plum, brown, or bronze. One-fifth of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin B2 and fiber is fulfilled by one serving of muscadines. The flesh is akin to a plum, though they appear more similar to grapes. The flavor is vaguely musky.
- Chokeberry: Only the eastern regions of North America see these berries, which might be black, red, or purple. Quite tart, they are sometimes sweet and are used in jams, jellies, and sherbet. They also boast a high antioxidant content.
- Elderberry: These small, round, purple, or black berries grow in clusters on vines. They are often used in herbal medicine for immune system remedies. Extremely tart and tangy, people typically use these cooked, and they can cause nausea if ingested in high amounts.
The Bad Berries
- Pokeweed: A common food source for birds and animals, this blackish-purple berry is toxic to people, pets, and livestock. The roots are particularly dangerous, and the higher or bigger the plant, the more toxins exist. Death can result from respiratory paralysis, and the berry juice can be absorbed in the skin.
- Mistletoe: Actually a parasite that lives on other plants, this berry varies widely in toxicity according to species. Usually not fatal upon ingestion, one can expect to experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, or even a heart attack. If a tea or any sort of concentration of these berries is made, death can result.
- Holly: These bright red berries contain a host of toxins; a couple of handfuls can be fatal to children and infants. Humans, domesticated, and wild animals usually succumb to intestinal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea upon ingestion.
- Yew: Every part of this tree is significantly poisonous, except for the berry’s fleshy part encompassing the seeds. Red in color, they look similar to an olive. Never try to salvage anything from these trees; rapidly absorbed upon ingestion, the toxins will make an adult extremely ill. Even after cooking or drying, the potent toxins in yew are present. Domesticated animals as well as those in the wild commonly succumb to yew.
- Virginia Creeper: With attractive flowers and small, hard blackish-purple berries, these vines contain a high amount of oxalic acid that can inflict kidney damage on humans and other mammals. Birds are unaffected; however, it only takes a handful of berries to cause irreversible kidney damage in humans.
There’s no standard rule for determining whether the berry you’re holding in your hand is edible. Dangerous – and edible – berries are available in every color. The only way to determine which berries are edible is to be completely sure and identify them correctly. If you mistakenly eat a toxic berry, significant illness or even death can result.
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