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Solanum dulcamara: Bitter Nightshade

Solanum dulcamara Bittersweet, Bitter Nightshade, Blue Bindweed, Climbing Nightshade, Fellenwort, Felonwood, Poisonberry, Poisonflower, Scarlet Berry, Snakeberry, Trailing Bittersweet, Trailing Nightshade, Violet Bloom or, Woody Nightshade
Solanum dulcamara is native to Europe and Asia but it has naturalized in many areas, North America being one of them where it is an invasive weed. Here in Chicago you can find it growing in roadsides and empty lots but it is also commonly found growing in gardens. The flowers and fruits in the photos above were growing in a neighbor's garden happily growing up the chain link fence. In gardens this plant can scramble over plants, trees and shrubs and be hard to control.

Bitter Nightshade is one of those plants that people either love or hate. One reason why some people hate this plant is because it has a reputation for being a poisonous plant. All parts of this plant are poisonous to people and livestock but the fruit is reported to be the most dangerous. Oddly enough the reason I like this plant is because of the fruit that start off green and turn yellow-orange until they ripen and turn the wonderful red you see above. Other people appreciate this plant because it has an extensive history of being used in homeopathic medicine and herbalism usually as a treatment to skin conditions.

When I was a kid it was common to pick the fruits and squish them between your thumb and index finger or hurl it at someone. Many girls who lived in my neighborhood would use the fruits to decorate mud cakes or add them to "salads" made of various weeds and daylily leafs. Improper handling of the berries was so common as a kid that I'm surprised none of us were ever poisoned.

Bitter Nightshade is one of those weeds that I often see around Chicago that hold a special place in my heart but with young nephews it can't hold a special place in my garden. But every time I come across this plant I have to resist the urge to pick a really ripe berry and squish it between my fingers and hurl it at someone.


  1. I remember doing this very thing as a kid--the squishing and hurling as well as "pie making", but we used miniature tomatillos instead.
    It's kind of amazing that any of the kids of yesterday survived--we did so many dangerous things--without the protection of watchdog laws or lawyers to guard us.
    I enjoy reading your posts.

  2. Just wanted to say...Love your blog...your take on gardening...all the fantastic info..and your beautiful photo's..I just started a blog~ My gardening pic's ~just about 2 wks is my site..please stop by...

  3. Anonymous10:59 PM

    I planted ivy one year at my apartment and it died. Next year this plant popped up . . and I thought it was ivy until the berries came!

    My dog ate them and got sick, so watch out.

    One of my favorite flowers, though.

  4. Anonymous2:48 PM

    According to several sources on the net the berries are only "mildly poisonous." The leaves are also poisonous, but I didn't find anything that elaborated about the leaves.

    Considering how many house and garden plants are poisonous to humans and/or animals to one degree or another, there may not be a whole lot to worry about with these. Probably a lot less poisonous than many others, such as poinsettia and castor beans.

  5. Anonymous5:39 PM

    Hi! Thanks for your post on bitter nightshade. I had this growing for several years next to my garage in the alley. Today, I finally "rescued" it and placed it in my garden. Any tips on the care of this plant? I dipped the roots in toner and planted in a shallow area that gets part sun to shade. Also tied the vines to my fence. Anything else I can do? Thanks

  6. Hi everyone thanks for the comments.

    Anonymous at 5:39 it sounds like you've done everything you can. If it doesn't survive see if you can save seeds from a ripe fruit later in the season.

  7. Aha!! We've had this gorgeous plant growing up over our deck since before we bought our house 7 years ago and I've never known what it was called, so thank you for your post!! Each year, we cut it back to practically nothing and each year it returns full and lovely.

    P.S. I just found your blog a few days ago and have been pouring through it. It's fun and full of such wonderful information!

  8. Valntyn, Thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it.



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