Take caution with unfamiliar berry plants

Bitter Nightshade
Bitter Nightshade with poisonous berries. (Photo by Barbara Fick.)
Black Nightshade
Black Nightshade and poisonous berries. (Photo by Barbara Fick.)
Last Updated: 
September 26, 2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University Extension has received calls and inquiries through its "Ask an Expert" program this past week about people possibly eating toxic berry plants.

"Many weeds have flowered and the 'fruit' can look tasty but should not be eaten," said Barbara Fick, OSU Extension horticulturist for Linn and Benton counties.

One such plant identified recently was the poisonous Black Nightshade.

"Children are attracted to the berries of these plants," Fick said. "Black nightshade fruit hang in clusters and are green when unripe, black and shiny when ripe. Also in the nightshade family, Bittersweet nightshade fruit turn bright red when ripe and are egg-shaped."

Although ripe fruits of some varieties may be edible when fully cooked, toxicity varies and unless it is known that the berries are from an edible strain, they should be left alone. Contact poison control at 1-800-222-1222 with questions.

Birds and animals often eat berries and plants that are poisonous to humans, Fick warned. "Observing wildlife eating plants is no guarantee that people can safely eat the plant," she said.

If you do not know what a plant is, bring it to the Master Gardeners at your local OSU Extension office for positive identification.

Author: Judy Scott
Source: Barbara Fick