Berries are a bountiful, delicious and nutritious wild food that can make for a great supplement to your rations anytime you are out in the wilderness.
But before you go and chow down on a bunch of fresh-picked berries, you had better know which ones are safe to eat and which ones are poisonous.
Choose the right berries, and you’ll eat well, but choose the wrong ones and it could mean misery or death!
In this article, we will tell you all about 9 common and safe wild berries, and also warn you off of 6 dangerously toxic ones.
We will also discuss the dangers associated with eating poisonous berries and dispel some common myths about determining whether or not a berry is safe based on its color.
Read on to learn more about which berries are safe and which ones are dangerous!
Wild Berries that are Safe to Eat
The wild blueberry plant is a fascinating little fruit-bearing shrub. It’s native to North America, and it has been a staple of the diet of many Native American peoples for centuries.
The wild blueberry is a small, bushy plant that typically grows to about two feet in height, with leaves that are oblong and dark green, and flowers of white or pale pink.
The plant’s berries are, as you’d expect, its most distinctive feature – they range in color from deep, midnight blue to purple, and they are often used in pies, jams, and other desserts.
The wild blueberry plant is an important food source for many animals, including bears, deer, and birds.
In addition to being a delicious treat, the berries of the wild blueberry plant are also rich in vitamins and antioxidants.
Wild blackberries can be found growing in many parts of the world. In North America, they are typically in season from June to August.
The bushes grow between 2 and 6 feet and do best in full sun and well-drained soil. Blackberry bushes are typically covered in sharp, tough thorns, so they can be difficult to pick without getting scratched.
However, the berries are well worth the effort, as they are juicy and sweet with a subtle tartness.
The berries themselves are small, oblong and composed of multiple drupelets which give it that distinctive, clustered appearance with a dark purple or black skin.
When picking blackberries, be sure to look for ripe berries that are plump and deep purple or near black in color. If the berries are red or green, they will not be as sweet.
Also, avoid any berries that have white or brown spots, as these indicate that the berry is overripe.
Native to Europe, Asia and parts of North America, the raspberry is a perennial plant with woody stems that belongs to the same family as the blackberry.
Raspberry bushes typically have green leaves and white or pink flowers, and thorns just like their blackberry relatives.
The fruit itself is red and has a distinctively cone-shaped structure that is hollow when picked. Raspberries are usually available from late spring to early autumn, although some varieties can be found growing year-round.
In the Northern hemisphere, they’re typically available from June to September, while in the Southern hemisphere they can be found from November to March.
Raspberries are a bright, crimson red when they’re ripe and ready to eat, and grow in clusters the same as blackberries.
The mulberry tree is a type of deciduous tree that is native to many parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, and North America.
Hardy and fast-growing, these trees can reach a height of 60 feet or perhaps a little more. Mulberry trees have a wide, spreading canopy of lightly serrated leaves and long, drooping branches.
The fruit of the mulberry tree is clustering, plump berry that looks very much like an overlong blackberry or raspberry.
Interestingly, the berries come in a variety of colors depending on the species of the tree, and can range from white to red and black to pale lavender. Usually ripe from June to August, the berries have a sweet taste and can be eaten fresh out of hand.
Wild strawberries are a small, delicate fruit that is beloved by many for its sweet flavor, regularly described as far sweeter and juicier than common produce section cultivars.
These strawberries grow regularly in wooded or grassy areas and are typically smaller than the ones you would find at the grocery store.
The wild strawberry plant has white flowers and three-lobed, heart-shaped leaves, and the berries themselves are red with small seeds on the surface.
Wild strawberries are typically in season from May to June, although this can vary depending on location.
If you’re lucky enough to find some of these delicious berries, savor them; they are so small and delicate you will rarely get more than a mouthful from them.
The huckleberry is a member of the Vaccinium family, which includes other well-known berries such as blueberries, cranberries and lingonberries.
These hardy plants are native to North America, and they can be found growing in the wild from Alaska all the way down to Mexico.
Huckleberries typically grow in mountainous or forested areas, and they thrive in sunny locations with well-drained soil.
The plants are relatively small, with leathery leaves and small white flowers that grow in clusters.
The berries themselves are small, of dark blue or purple color, and they have a tart flavor that is popular in pies and jams.
Despite their small size, huckleberries are packed with flavor and nutrients. Huckleberry season varies depending on location, but in general, the berries are ripe and ready to pick from late summer to early fall.
Note: Elderberries must be cooked to be made safe to eat- raw elderberries and elderberry seeds are always toxic. The elderberry plant is a shrub that can grow up to 12 feet tall.
It has dark green, slender, long leaves and clusters of small white or cream-colored flowers.
Elderberries often grow in moist, partially shady areas such as woods, hedges and wetlands. They are native to Europe and North America but can also be found in Australia and New Zealand.
The individual berries are dark purple or black and grow in dense, heavy clusters on the plant. Elderberries have been used for centuries in folk medicine to treat colds, flu and other ailments.
The berries can be eaten cooked or processed into jams, jellies, pies and wines. Today, elderberry products are sold as supplements and natural remedies.
Some studies have shown that elderberry extractives can help reduce the severity and duration of colds and flu, but more research is needed.
Also known as aronia berries and not to be confused with chokecherries, the chokeberry is a member of the Rosaceae family, which includes other familiar fruits such as apples, pears and cherries.
There are two main types of chokeberries: black chokeberry and red chokeberry. These deciduous shrubs are native to North America and can be found growing in damp woods, bogs, and wetlands across the continent.
Chokeberries are small, round fruits that grow in groups on the shrub, each dangling from a small vine-like cherries. They get their name from the astringent, sour taste of the berries.
When eaten raw, chokeberries will make your mouth pucker and your throat constrict, hence the name!
They are safe when raw, but when cooked or processed their flavor mellows and becomes much more palatable.
Chokeberries are high in antioxidants and have potential health benefits such as reducing inflammation, improving heart health and boosting immunity.
Muscadines are a type of grape that is native to the southeastern United States. The vines grow in wild, wooded areas, along fences and in old fields.
They usually grow as vines, but can also be found as shrubs. Muscadines are plentiful in states such as Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Muscadine plants are easy to identify due to their large leaves and conspicuous clusters of thick-skinned berries.
The berries themselves are large and round, appearing nearly identical to large grapes, and range in color from green to black. They are typically ripe and ready to pick in late summer or early fall.
Stay Away from These Toxic Berries
Belladonna, also known as “deadly nightshade,” is a member of the Solanaceae family, which includes other well-known poisonous plants such as potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco.
The belladonna plant is a tall, leafy herb that grows up to four feet in height and produces small, dark berries.
All parts of the plant are toxic, but the berries, which taste sweet, pose the greatest risk to human health. The belladonna toxin can cause seizures, hallucinations and even death if ingested in significant quantities.
However, the plant has also been used medicinally for centuries to treat a variety of conditions.
When used in small doses, belladonna extractives can help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. That will be of no consolation if you scarf down a handful of these alluring but poisonous berries.
Moonseed plants can be found in the wild in North America, Asia and Africa, and they have been known to grow up to six feet tall.
Moonseeds get their name from the shape of their seeds, which are said to resemble the crescent moon.
The plants themselves are slender and vine-like, with dark green leaves and small white flowers. While they may look innocuous, moonseeds are actually quite poisonous.
The berries contain a toxin called dauricine that can cause nausea, arrhythmia, seizure and respiratory failure if ingested.
In severe cases, the toxin can cause paralysis or even death. There are many reported cases of children dying after eating only a small quantity of the fruit, it is no joke.
Luckily, the berries are said to taste quite nasty, so you’ll know something is wrong if you bite into one. Make sure you rinse your mouth out well!
The yew is a coniferous tree that is native to Europe, Asia and North America. Beautiful and ancient-looking, these evergreen plants are most commonly found in Europe and Asia, although they can also be found in North America.
Yews typically have a slender trunk with reddish-brown bark and branches that droop down towards the ground and can attain a height of 30-40 feet.
The leaves are dark green and needle-like and adorned with inconspicuous but appealing red, olive-like berries.
And don’t get too close, either: all parts of the Yew are ferociously poisonous, as they contain a toxin called taxine among other harmful compounds, compounds that are efficiently absorbed through the skin or even inhaled.
Taxine can cause arrhythmia, bradycardia, and cardiac arrest if ingested, and even a tiny bit of matter from the plant is enough to be deadly. As little as two berries can be fatal to humans, so it’s best to steer clear of these altogether.
Pokeweed is a tall, herbaceous plant that can grow up to ten feet in height. It has large, dark green leaves and deep purple or red berries that grow in clusters.
Pokeweed plants are found throughout North America and parts of Europe and Asia and have been used medicinally for centuries by native peoples.
All parts of the pokeweed plant are poisonous, but the berries pose the greatest risk to human health. The toxins in pokeweed berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and even death if ingested in large quantities.
Mistletoe is widely known and adored as a festive holiday decoration, one often hung above doorways. In nature, mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on trees, such as oak, apple and maple. Mistletoes are evergreen plants with leathery leaves and small, white berries that grow in clusters.
The mistletoe leaves and berries contain phoratoxin and are poisonous to humans; though rarely fatal ingestion can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
In severe cases, the toxin can cause seizures, coma and even death, and is particularly deadly if the leaves and berries are steeped to make a tea.
Holly is a shrub or tree that is native to Europe, Asia and North America. Holly plants have glossy green, spiny leaves and red berries that grow in clusters.
Holly plants prefer soils that are high in organic matter and they often grow in forested areas. The holly plant is most commonly associated with the Christmas holiday, as it is often used as a decoration.
However, because it is on this list and in this section you know it has a dark side. Holly berries contain multiple compounds that can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.
However, the berries must be eaten in large quantities to put someone at the risk of death.
That being said, many children have been severely poisoned and died because they could not resist trying those tempting, red berries.
Isn’t There a Surefire Way to Reliably Tell Toxic Berries from Safe Ones?
Unfortunately, no. Though some misguided or ill-informed individuals may tell you that there are “universal” or “foolproof” ways to distinguish between safe and poisonous berries- color, shape, etc. – it simply is not true. Relying on such rules of thumb, erroneous as they are, could be the last mistake you ever make.
When in doubt, always err on the side of caution and avoid eating any berries you cannot positively identify as safe.
Many berries look very similar to one another even if the plants they grow on do not, and even then it can be easy to mistake a poisonous plant for a harmless one.
Eating even a small quantity of toxic berries can cause serious illness or death, so it’s simply not worth the risk.
The best way to avoid accidentally eating a poisonous berry is to familiarize yourself with the plants that grow in your area and learn which ones are safe to eat and which ones are not. If you’re not positive that a berry is safe to eat, don’t eat it!
Many Berries are Safe and Healthy, but Not All!
Though it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with eating wild berries, it’s also worth noting that many are safe and healthy.
With a little bit of caution and some expert knowledge of the various species, you can enjoy these delicious fruits without fear of making yourself sick or suffering even worse consequences.
Review the list of safe and toxic berries above and you’ll be better prepared to assess any wild berries you come across.