Synonyms: Other names: bittersweet Nomenclature: dulcis = sweet to the taste Nativity / Invasiveness: introduced plant
General: rhizomatous perennial, becoming shrubby below, tending to climb or scramble on other vegetation to a height of 1-3 m. Herbage moderately short-hairy to hairless.
Leaves: alternate, stalked, some simple and with rather broadly ovate to almost cordate blade 2.5-8 cm long by 1.5-5 cm wide, others with a pair of smaller, often unequal basal lobes or leaflets, the end leaflet then frequently not at all cordate.
Flowers: about 5-25 in broad clusters 3-8 cm wide, the branches jointed, bractless, often repeatedly 2-forkedly branched, flowering from the center, the main cluster stalks 1.5-4 cm long. Corollas blue or light violet, the 5 lobes 5-9 mm long, soon bent backward. Anthers 5, conspicuous, yellow, often fused together into a central column.
Fruits: berries, bright red, ellipsoid to rounded, 8-11 mm long, in hanging clusters.
Thickets, clearings, and open woods, partly shaded ground, along streams, often in moist soil at lower elevations, in w., c. and some n.e. parts of MT. Native of Eurasia, now widely introduced in the U.S. and s. Canada.
Bittersweet is a toxic plant that has a long history of use in the treatment of skin diseases, warts, tumors, felons etc. It should be used with caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner, this is a toxic plant that, in excess, paralyzes the central nervous system, slows the heart and respiration, and lowers temperature, causing vertigo, delirium, convulsions and death. All parts of the plant are alterative, mildly urination-inducing, mildly narcotic and purgative, pain-relieving , blood purifying, and has agents that induce vomiting, that induce the removal (coughing up) of mucous secretions from the lungs, that promote the well-being of the liver and increase the secretion of bile. The dried stem, usually collected in the autumn and preferably from the ends of branches 2 - 3 years old, is the part that is most valued medicinally, though the leaves are also used. The plant is chiefly used as an alterative when taken internally in the treatment of a range of skin diseases, it is also used in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, bronchial congestion, heart ailments, ulcerative colitis and jaundice. Externally, the plant is used to treat skin eruptions, ulcers, rheumatism and cellulite. Two to three year old stems are harvested in the spring, or after the leaves have fallen in the autumn, and dried for later use. The fruits are marinated in vinegar and applied to cancerous sores and other swellings. A decoction of the root is used in the treatment of cancer and swellings. The root is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh, green, still pliant stems and leaves, harvested as the plant begins to flower. This is used in treating a variety of complaints including backaches, cough, diarrhea, eye inflammations and joint pains.
Climbing nightshade, especially in its green immature fruits, contains steroidal alkaloids, which have caused poisoning in cattle and sheep. Humans may have been poisoned after ingesting immature berries. Recent experiments show that the mature red berries contain only a small amount of toxin and have little chance of harming children. The immature green berries of climbing nightshade have been shown to be toxic to hamsters and mice. Mature red berries did not cause symptoms in mice. The leaves are mildly poisonous as well.
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