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Synonyms: Dulcamara. Felonwood. Felonwort. Scarlet Berry. Violet Bloom
Other Names : Bittersweet, Bittersweet nightshade, Bitter nightshade, Blue bindweed, Amara Dulcis, Climbing nightshade, Fellenwort, Felonwood, Poisonberry, Poisonflower, Scarlet berry, Snakeberry, Trailing bittersweet, Trailing nightshade, Violet bloom, or Woody nightshade
Bittersweet is a semi-woody herbaceous perennial vine, which scrambles over other plants, capable of reaching a height of 4 m where suitable support is available, but more often 1–2 meters high. The leaves are 4–12 cm long, roughly arrowhead-shaped, and often lobed at the base. The flowers are in loose clusters of 3–20, 1–1.5 cm across, star-shaped, with five purple petals and yellow stamens and style pointing forward. The fruit is an ovoid red berry about 1 cm long, soft and juicy, with the aspect and odor of a tiny tomato, and edible for some birds, which disperse the seeds widely. However, the berry is poisonous to humans and livestock, and the berry’s attractive and familiar look make it dangerous for children.It spreads via underground stems.
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The plant is relatively important in the diet of some species of birds such as European thrushes that feed on its fruits and are immune to its poisons, scattering the seeds abroad. It grows in all types of terrain with a preference for wetlands and the understory of riparian forests. Along with other climbers, it creates a dark and impenetrable shelter for varied animals. The plant grows well in dark areas in places where it can receive the light of morning or afternoon. An area receiving bright light for many hours reduces their development. It grows more easily in rich wet soils with plenty of nitrogen.
It has been used in folk medicine across Europe for hundreds of years. But Michel Felix Dunal, who worked on Solanum in the 1800s, realised that many of the powers attributed to this plant were spurious.
Woody nightshade was used to treat skin conditions, circulatory conditions and breathing problems like asthma. It was included in the official British Pharamcopeia until 1907, but was taken out of later editions.
The older physicians valued Bittersweet highly and applied it to many purposes in medicine and surgery, for which it is no longer used. It was in great repute as far back as the time of Theophrastus, and we know of it being in use in this country in the thirteenth century.
Gerard says of it: ‘The juice is good for those that have fallen from high places, and have been thereby bruised or beaten, for it is thought to dissolve blood congealed or cluttered anywhere in the intrals and to heale the hurt places.’ Boerhaave, the celebrated Dutch physician, considered the young shoots superior to Sarsaparilla as a restorative, and Linnaeus, who at first had an aversion to the plant, later spoke of it in the highest terms as a remedy for rheumatism, fever and inflammatory diseases of all kinds. There are few complaints for which it has not been at some time recommended.
It carries the bacterium – Ralstonia solanacearum – that causes brown rot in potatoes. The disease can be spread to potatoes from infected woody nightshade growing on riverbanks if the river water is used to irrigate potato fields.
Solanum dulcamara contains solanine, an alkaloid glycoside. It increases bodily secretions and leads to vomiting and convulsions. The strength of its actions is said to be very dependent on the soil in which it grows with light, dry soils increasing its effects.
Though the berries are very attractive the bitter taste is a disincentive for the majority of people, especially children.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.