Bittersweet Nightshade

Marcia Rubin

Chagrin Falls, United States

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Artist's Description

Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)
Location: Aurora, Ohio USA
Month: June
Habitat: Pondside
Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ28
Origin and Distribution:
After it was introduced into North America from Eurasia as a cultivated ornamental, bittersweet nightshade spread throughout the U.S. becoming most abundant in the eastern and north-central states. In Ohio, bittersweet nightshade is distributed throughout the state. The species can be found in thickets, hedgerows, ditches, stream banks, marshes, swamp forests, deciduous woods, waste areas, roadsides, railroads, orchards, and along the edges of agronomic fields. Bittersweet nightshade prefers rich soils in areas that tend to be moist or even waterlogged for a portion of the year. The weed tolerates shade.
Leaves are considered moderately poisonous if ingested, and there is much disagreement over the toxicity of the berries. Some say that paralysis can result in humans that have eaten as few as 6 berries. Cases of poisoning in cattle, horses, and sheep have been documented. Concentrations of toxic compounds within plants may vary with growth stage, and chemical components may vary from one individual to the next. Regardless, leaves and berries of the plant should be regarded as toxic.
Facts and Folklore:

  • ‘Solanum’ was derived from the same Latin root word as ‘solace’, and was likely given as a name for this weed because of its many medicinal uses.
  • ‘Dulcamara’ is a combination of Latin words meaning “sweet-bitter”.
  • The common name refers to a toxin in bittersweet nightshade that is said to leave a bitter and then sweet taste if ingested.
    *Bittersweet nightshade was used to treat asthma, bronchitis, jaundice, kidney problems, rheumatism, skin diseases, syphilis, and to counteract witchcraft.

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