Can I eat that berry? Identifying poisonous berries can be difficult. There are many parts of the US (and the globe at large, for that matter) where wild berries flourish at certain times of the year. It is not at all uncommon for hikers, campers, and those lost in the woods to be tempted to eat those berries, especially if no other food source is available. The problem, of course, is that some berries are poisonous and can make you very sick or even kill you if you eat enough of them or if you are allergic to them. This article offers some useful (albeit general) tips on wild berries and how to stay away from the dangerous ones.
Tip 1: Don’t trust your eyes
There are many types of dangerous berries found in various types of terrain, and many of these look very delectable. Chances are you will not be able to determine all of the “bad” berries in any particular area unless you are an expert in berry identification. The easier way to approach this is to learn which berries in your area are “good” berries, those that are edible. It is much safer (and easier) to learn about blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc. than it is to memorize every dangerous type of berry that may be in your area.
Tip 2: Color often matters
Berries that are blue or black are usually edible. Berries that are red are often NOT safe to eat. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Strawberries are red and are safe to eat (unless you are allergic to them) while poinsettia berries (red as well) are not safe at all to eat. You should NEVER eat white berries unless you know for sure it safe to do so.
Tip 3: Don’t eat that
While it may be difficult to memorize all of the dubious berries that thrive in your area, it is possible to memorize the main ones that you are likely to encounter. These would include berries and plants such as mistletoe, holly, yew, nightshade, and jasmine for example. It is good to teach this to your kids as well. If you are out in the wilds a lot, consider buying a pocket-size plant identification booklet.
Tip 4: Bits and Pieces
Do not assume you can eat a berry just because you see birds eating them. Do not eat berries that you do not recognize if they have a bitter taste; spit it out. Poisonous berries, in general, will only harm you if you swallow them. Always watch your kids while in the woods. Children are notoriously curious about berries and have been known to gobble down a handful of whatever they happen upon without a second thought.
The best course of action should someone eat suspicious berries is to encourage vomiting as soon as possible. It takes a bit of time before the stomach can begin digesting the berries, so the faster you get the material out of a person’s stomach the better. You can promote vomiting by sticking a finger down the person’s throat, engaging the gag reflex. If a person shows any symptoms of distress, get to a medical facility ASAP.
Identifying poisonous berries is an extremely important skill to learn if you plan on spending an extended amount of time outdoors. Want to learn more about what is edible and and what is not edible? Mother Earth News has a fantastic, in depth, guide that is very helpful when identifying poisonous berries. Signup below to download the guide.