Foraging in the fields this morning I came home with Blackberries a real juicy treat. The hedges are laden with beautiful glistening berries at this time of year, tempting to pick but beware many of these gorgeous looking berries are deadly. Do you recognise them?
Belladonna Berries/Deadly Nightshade/Black Nightshade
Most people know about the fatal poison of the deadly nightshade but the recent balmy weather has helped a related species thrive , with its own toxic berries.The fruit of the black nightshade, or solanum nigrum, is highly toxic but can easily be mistaken for blueberries.
It normally grows on remote farmland but a combination of a wet spring and the summer heatwave has helped the dangerous weed take hold in urban areas.
However, if they are consumed in their unripe state they contain atropine and solanin, poisons which can prove deadly to humans and livestock.
Deadly nightshade berries pose the greatest danger to children, as they are attractive and are deceptively sweet at first bite. Yet just two berries can kill a child who eats them, and it takes only 10 or 20 to kill an adult. Likewise, consuming even a single leaf can prove fatal to humans.
How to identify
Deadly Nightshade has oval, pointed leaves that are pale green and strongly ribbed. Purple-brown flowers appear before the berries, which are green at first, turning to shiny black, and look a little like cherries.
If you are brave you can eat sloes raw, though they are very sharp and will dry your mouth out before you even finish your first one. If you have never tried one it is worth it for an experience. Sloes are wonderful for preserves but be aware that the leaves, stems, unripe fruit and the root are all poisonous to both dogs and humans as they contain cyanide, albeit in very small quantities.
The sloe grows on the blackthorn bush. These are easily identifiable due to their inch long black thorns. They are a wild form of plum and so expect the bush to look like a miniature plum tree. They will have slightly serated leaves. But don’t be fooled, sometimes the thorns are hard to find.
The Cuckoo Pint
The Cuckoo Pint is often seen under hedges. It likes moist ground and shade, and has an attractive flower and berries, which are poisonous. The whole plant should be treated with caution as the sap from the plant causes a burning sensation and this lasts for hours.
The root can be used for medicinal purposes if you understand what you are dong but is best avoided unless you have good knowledge of how to use it. If you use the root then wash all utensils boiling water afterwards.
This article is NOT designed as a comprehensive guide to commonly found berries, and there are MANY more out there which are not covered, so do be careful ! There 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 LEAVE IT ALONE and find something else to eat. The berry of the YEW is one that you are advised to leave well alone unless you already have the appropriate knowledge.