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Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry

Summary

Although the berries contain an impressive array of toxins their white colour seems to discourage ingestion and the violent vomiting caused seems to limit absorption.

Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry

Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry

Family

Caprifoliaceae

Meaning of the Name

Symphoricarpos
From the Greek ‘symploke’ ‘interweaving’, ‘interlacing’ or ‘connection’ and ‘karpos’, ‘fruit’ meaning its fruits appear in clusters.
 
albus
White

Common Names and Synonyms

snowberry

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

It contains viburnin, chelidonine, saponins, tannins, terpenes, tryglycerides and coumarins. It is a gastrointestinal irritant capable of causing vomiting, bloody urine and delirium but its emetic effect is so strong that the berries are usually expelled undigested.

As with many toxic berries, the unpleasant taste also reduces consumption.

Incidents

White berries are not naturally attractive to humans so there is little evidence of any actual poisonings due to the plant. Only two cases are recorded; one in 1885 and the other in 1979. Both involved severe vomiting shortly after ingestion which expelled the undigested berries.

Folklore and Facts

A tea made from the roots has been used to cleanse the womb after giving birth so it may have abortificant properties, though these have not been reported. The berries were rubbed on the skin to cure sores or burns and have been used to settle the stomach, in small amounts. Their extreme whiteness has led to them being called Corpseberry and described as a food for wandering ghosts.