Synonyms: Other names: red baneberry Nomenclature: rubra = red (berries) Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
General: perennial herb, stems erect, 1 to several, 40-100 cm tall, usually branched, sparsely short-hairy, from fleshy rhizomes.
Leaves: the basal one scale-like, otherwise all on stem, alternate, few, 2- to 3 times divided in 3's and with some pinnate segments, the segments ovate, 3-9 cm long, coarsely sharp-toothed and lobed.
Flowers: many in dense clusters on long, naked stalks, terminal and from upper leaf axils. Individual flower stalks slender, elongating to as much as 1-2 cm in fruit, each with a small bract at the base. Sepals 3-5, whitish or purplish-tinged, 2-3 mm long, soon falling off. Petals 5-10, white, narrowly spatulate, scarcely longer than the sepals. Stamens numerous, longer than the petals. Pistil one, the ovary 1-celled, the stigma 2-lobed.
Fruits: berries, fleshy, glossy red, sometimes white, round-ellipsoid, 5-11 mm long, with several seeds.
Moist woods and streambanks, foothills to subalpine zone, in w. and c. parts of MT. Also from AK to CA, AZ and NM, and e. to the Atlantic coast.
The whole baneberry plant, but especially the root, is pain-relieving, antirheumatic, and has agents that promote secretion of milk and cause reddening or irritation when applied to the skin. The plant was often used medicinally by North American Indian tribes, though modern users should be aware of the plants potential toxicity. A tea made from the root was used as an appetizer, in the treatment of stomach pains, coughs, colds, menstrual irregularities, post partum pains, to increase milk flow and as a purgative after childbirth.
Great caution should be employed if using this plant internally, the rootstock is a violent purgative, irritant and emetic. All parts of the plant are toxic, containing the poison protoanemonin, apparently acting upon the heart. As few as 2 berries can cause severe cramps, headaches, vomiting, bloody diarrhea and/or dizziness. Severe poisoning results in paralysis of the respiratory system and cardiac arrest.
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