Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June 25, 2014 - Climbing Nightshade

Climbing nightshade, also known as bittersweet, is a member of the Solanaceae family and grows wild here in Maine.  Its berries are not quite as poisonous as deadly nightshade, but they can still poison you and cause problems.  It's a pretty plant, though.  The bright purple flowers with yellow anthers look like shooting stars.  I've turned this bunch upward so you can see the flowers, but they usually point downward.  The stalks and stems of the flower clusters are also purple.  Soon they will sport bright red, glossy berries with a strange smell I don't really care for.  Once you smell it, you'll never forget it.  When I was little, I played all sorts of games with the berries, and I always had that strange berry smell about me.  Of course, I knew they were poisonous, and it's a miracle I didn't eat them just to spite those who warned me against them.

The berries and roots have been used medicinally for a couple of thousand years, at least, as an ointment or poultice for various skin ailments, such as eczema and especially cancer.  The flowers contain solasodine, which is useful against skin cancer lesions, and the roots contain beta-solamarine, another substance useful for the same purpose.  In magical folklore, people would hang a sprig of these berries in a secret place in the house as a protection charm and also to help heal them of bitter memories.  Shepherds would weave a necklace of the flower clusters and place it around their animals' necks as protection against the "evil eye."

Of course, I can tell that the fairies are always busy around the nightshade plants (which also include tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and tobacco).  This is because of the narcotic properties that they all contain in varying degrees.  Fairies love to use these berries to confuse humans and sometimes bring them to their own land, never to be seen again by their friends and family, which is why all the old fables always warn you never to eat anything a fairy gives you.  There's a certain energy coming off the climbing nightshade, and once you are familiar with it, it's unmistakable.  That, and the strange smell.  I never will forget it.

Climbing nightshade, also known as bittersweet.
NOTE:  Do not ever confuse climbing nightshade with deadly nightshade.  The deadly nightshade flowers are a darker, huskier purple in color and don't seem to open as much as the climbing nightshade flowers do.  Also, the berries are shiny black.  Eating a handful of climbing nightshade berries might cause dizziness, hallucinations, vomiting, and diarrhea for a few days (in rare cases, death).  But eating just two deadly nightshade berries can easily put you in an early grave.  Tread softly.

(Yes, I have to put a disclaimer in.  This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any ailment.  If you need medical advice, seek a physician.)


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