Friday, 5 September 2014

Nightshade but not deadly

This plant is often thought to be deadly nightshade.  In fact it is Woody Nightshade or Bittersweet.  It scrambles over other plants - on a bramble in the photo - and has these pretty purple flowers with a yellow cone of stamens in the centre.

The red berries are the most tempting to children but in fact are the least poisonous part of the plant.

When the berries are green, however, they contain much more solanine which is poisonous if eaten in quantity.  Think of green potatoes.  The last recorded death from eating bittersweet berries was of a nine-year-old in 1948.

Its botanical name (Solanum dulcamara) shows that it is related to the potato (Solanum tuberosum) and the so-called winter cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum). 
The Latin species name for Woody Nightshade or Bittersweet is dulcamara, a combination of dulcis (sweet)and amarus (bitter).  Apparently the red berries taste bitter at first with a sweet after-taste.  I haven't tried them and I advise you not to do so either.  But don't panic when you see this pretty flower or its brilliant berries.

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