Wild Edible Wednesday!
This week's wild edible is Japanese Barberry!
-The small red fruits and leaves of this shrub are the edible part. Although the fruits aren’t as tasty as their cousin the English Barberry’s fruit, they are still quite edible and can be used to make jams and jellies. Barberry tea can be made from either the leaves or the crushed berries. You will notice a slight bitterness and a hint of sweetness and tartness all in one when consuming the fruit of this plant.
-These plants are actually an invasive species so wherever you find them growing there is bound to be more plants not far away. They become ripe in the fall, but they are quite easy to spot in the winter season because they are one of the few plants to still bear fruits through the winter (although slightly shriveled like in the photos above).
-Japanese barberry occurs and is reported to be invasive throughout the northeastern U.S. from Maine to North Carolina and west to Wisconsin and Missouri. It grows well in full sun to deep shade and forms dense stands in closed canopy forests, open woodlands, wetlands, fields and other areas.
-It grows between 3-6 feet tall with small “spoon-like” leaves growing in a whorled pattern down its branches (it’s important to note the Japanese Barberry leaves do not have lobes or serrations and are smooth along the edges, where as other types of barberry may not). The leaves are green in the summer and spring, turn yellow and orange in the fall, and then completely fall off in the winter. The branches themselves are covered in brown deeply grooved bark and when peeled back or broken reveal a bright yellow fleshy layer. The branches are also covered in dozens of tiny, incredibly sharp and painful thorns that grow out of its joints. Berries may sometimes look as if they are growing in cluster but upon further inspection you will find each berry is connected individually to the main branch unlike its European cousin which does grow in clusters. During the spring, these shrubs will be covered with small, dangling white or yellow flowers that have 6 sepals, 6 smaller petals, and grow in pairs.
-Although they are not the most appetizing plant, they are edible and a readily available source of vitamin c throughout the winter months as most animals tend not to touch them until later in the season. Boiling in changes of water, or soaking them several days in water with charcoal (while changing the water regularly of course) could help to reduce a bit of the bitterness.
-Historically, Japanese Barberry is said to have a few medicinal properties which include (but are not limited to): lowering fevers, fighting infections, increasing appetite, helping with diarrhea and upset stomachs, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, UTI’s, psoriasis, yeast infections, cardiovascular problems, liver ailments, acting as an, increasing vigor, and promoting overall health. Yellow dye can also be made from the roots and branches.
**A lot of the medicinal uses of this plant require using the root of the barberry plant. Side effects to using the root or root extract too often or in large quantities can include: vomiting, nasal bleeding, nausea, low blood pressure, impaired breathing, low heart rate, and convulsions. Pregnant woman should avoid this plant because it can increase the amount and intensity of uterine contractions causing harm to the baby or miscarriage. This plant should also be avoided my men and women who are trying to conceive a child because it can stop the development of sperm cells and cause infertility.
**When identifying plants you are unfamiliar with, please use as multiple references, as well as help from experts when available. Unless you are 110% sure what a plant is, it is best to avoid it completely.
**If you plan on using any plants for medicinal uses, consult a healthcare professional, as well as botanist familiar in the field of wild plants. And as always, use as many references and expert opinions as possible when identifying a plant.
**Be sure to avoid any plants growing near roads, around chemicals, other poisonous plants, or polluted/contaminated water.
**As always, be sure to use the Universal Edibility Test to ensure the plant is the correct plant and to help identify any unknown allergies you may have.