Saturday, October 9, 2010

Are these edible sunberries, or something poisonous?

I found these berries in my mom's California garden.  My mom said she sprinkled some wildflower seeds in this section earlier this year.  Since she's never grown any berries before, I have to rule out self-seeding volunteers.  So I guess these berry plants grew from seeds mixed in with the wildflowers, or they are just part of random weeds in the garden.

When these plants were growing, I thought they kind of looked like something in the solanum family (like peppers), but being a first-year gardener, my botanical knowledge was/is rather limited.  Now they are bearing berries slightly smaller than blueberries.  I remember seeing a post from The Ottawa Gardener where she talked about sunberries, which are edible, and also mentioned (in the comment section) that they are a lot similar to other wild solanum berries which may be poisonous.

Do any of my more experienced readers have an idea on what we may have here?  I'll post a few more pictures.

Here's they are, growing amongst some other random wildflowers.  The tall skinny plant in the middle with narrow leaves is something else, not part of this berry plant.

The tallest part of the berry-bearing plant seems to be no more than 2 feet or so.

This plant is less than a foot tall, but still has berries on them.

By the way, curiosity got the better of me and I ate a few of these berries.  About a dozen, to be exact.  My mom told me not to eat them, since I didn't know if they were poisonous.  So what did I do?  I first squeezed a berry (very easy, since these were slightly softer than a ripe blueberry), and tasted a tiny bit of the juice with the tip of my tongue - as if I would be able to tell what a poisonous berry tastes like.  And it tasted fine.  Not sweet like a super sweet blueberry, but not at all tart like some blueberries can be.  Sort of a mildly sweet berry with no tartness at all.  So I yelled out to my mom "it tastes okay!" and ate the rest in my hand.

That was about 30 minutes ago.  I'll let you know if I'm still alive tomorrow.


Erin said...

That blossom sure is a telling feature! I personally would be a bit leery though!

Sherri B. said...

The blossom reminds me of 'deadly nightshade' my grandmother would call it, but that berry is red. If I were you I would ask Marie over at she seems to know a lot about eating very strange things and I think she would be happy to help out. Good luck.

Heather@myeverydaygraces said...

Nightshade for sure!!! It is called deadly nightshade, but really will just make you sick unless you have other health issues. How do I know? My two year old son came into the house with purple lips and fingers and I realized that he had eaten them... I grabbed a sample and headed to the nursery... long story short... panic, poison hotline,crying, hospital, charcoal drink for him, observation, and home again jiggety jig:)

Heather@myeverydaygraces said...

ps. it is a relative of the potato/tomato family:)

thyme2garden said...

Erin - the blossom reminded me of pictures of potato flowers I've seen.

* * * * *
Sherri B - thank you for the reference!

* * * * *
Heather - "deadly nightshade" sure sounds like a good name for a poisonous plant. That episode with your son must've been really scary! Did he get sick right away? I'm still feeling okay for now. Thought I was feeling slightly dizzy earlier, but I could've totally imagined it.

Annie's Granny said...

Oh, Thyme. It was nice knowing you, dear. Goodbye.


Yikes, now I'll really feel terrible if you expire from eating poisonous berries! That's the same plant that I was going to build a trellis for, very pretty. Then I discovered it was a noxious weed. Probably came out of bird droppings.

Heather@myeverydaygraces said...

He never got sick. In reality I don't think he could have eaten all that many berries. It doesn't sound like you ate too many... as long as you are healthy you are probably fine. If I remember correctly the doctor said something about immune deficiency illnesses/diseases making it worse. Of course, this is all personal opinion... I only play a doctor on TV, haha!

thyme2garden said...

Granny - wouldn't it be just terrible if I "expired" after just one year of vegetable gardening, the which you think was the worst vegetable gardening year in the last fifty years? I didn't even think about seeds coming from bird droppings, but I guess that's a possibility as well.

As you can see, I'm still alive and well with no ill effects after 8 hours. I think I'm in the clear!

* * * * *
Heather - that's good to hear that your son never got sick! I'm also still feeling good. Whether it's due to my general good health, too few berries, or the lack of poisonous toxicity in these berries, I have no idea. But it's all good!

Mr. H. said...

We have the same thing growing wild in our garden. I too, think they are sunberries but have been leary about eating them. How do you feel?:)

thyme2garden said...

Mr. H. - I didn't realize these were so prevalent everywhere. After 12 hours, I still feel fine! I'll just count my blessings and not push my luck with eating more of these berries. The ones I ate were pretty tasty, but this not knowing about their toxicity takes away from really enjoying the berry experience. :)

Annie's Granny said...

You and Mr. H. need to look at the following pages, then decide if you want to eat those berries!

Anna said...

I just came across this blog, with a new fascination for edible plants. Currently leafing through a copy of "Natures Garden" by Samuel Thayer. There's an entire chapter on the Black Nightshade - edible vs. poisoning.

I'm a novice, but from the descriptions in his book, and your pix, it looks like yours may be the edible kind. I'd do some more investigating before giving up on it...seems the variety with slightly bug-eaten leaves and white flowers, black berries, are edible according to Thayer:

"I began eating wild black nightshade berries at the age of 12 and have avidly sought them ever since. I have eaten the berries on many hundreds of occasions - because I find them delicious.." - P 380

His photos look very much like yours.

I've definitely seen this variety growing here in hills around Los Angeles, CA. Now I'm curious....

Great blog!

thyme2garden said...

Granny - several others mentioned the name "deadly nightshade" but based on the descriptions in those links, I'm pretty sure these berries are NOT them. The deadly nightshade flowers are supposed to be purple and the berries are supposed to be shiny black (as seen in that flickr link you sent). The plant here have white flowers (you can see them in my pictures). Also, these berries and dull purple/black. I guess dull vs. shiny is a lesser certain distinction, but the white vs. purple flower is pretty easy to tell.

I'm thinking that what I have here are Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum), and their toxicity seem to be debatable according to my internet research.

* * * * *
Anna - thank you for stopping by and letting me know about the book chapter on Black Nightshade! I'm inclined to lean that way as well after research this for a good part of the day.

Annie's Granny said...

I think you're right. After reading what Anna said, I looked at some more photos, and I found just one with the white blossom, which said it was a sunberry. Mine had flowers, that looked just like yours (or like a tomato blossom), but mine were lavender. I'd still be careful about eating them. Maybe you could find a master gardener or a nursery in your area that is familiar with them. I'm such a wuss when it comes to eating wild plants and berries!

thyme2garden said...

Granny - No worries, I already pulled all these berry plants today along with all the other weeds and wildflowers in this garden bed, in an attempt to clean it up and set my mom up with some fall vegetables.

This way, I can't be tempted to try just a few more berries during garden work. :) Many berries have already fallen off the plant (they were very ripe), and although I tried to pick up every one that I could see, I probably missed a few and it's very possible that we'll see some volunteers next year. I'll try to remember to not sample any more mystery berries next year.

Amy Manning said...

Looks like deadly nightshade to me. We have them in my area but the berries are red. I destroy them whenever I see them so that my kiddo doesn't mistake them for an edible berry and to keep the goats from eating them.

thyme2garden said...

Amy Manning - we discussed this one back and forth in this comment section and decided that what I had were probably "black nightshade, and definitely not "deadly nightshade" as the flower shape/color are different, as well as the exact berry description (dull purple/black vs shiny black).

meemsnyc said...

Oh my goodness, you are one brave lady!! I wouldn't dare try to eat berries I don't know about. Glad you are feeling okay.

Thanks for your comment about the sushi. It was our 2nd time making it. It's a lot of fun.

thyme2garden said...

meemsnyc - I don't know about brave, but it definitely wasn't the smart thing to do. I was just so curious!

Kate said...


What you ate may have been Luther Burbank's Wonderberry or something similar. I have Wonderberries growing (they self-seed) in my garden and I would be happy to bring you some babies if you would like some. They are a little smaller than blueberries and have a taste that's very different from any other fruit. They are supposed to be very good cooked but I just grab a handful in the garden.

thyme2garden said...

Hi Kate,

Thanks for your comment! You may be right about wonderberries. It seems like there are lots of similar berries out there. Sure, if you have a spare baby, I'll try growing them in my garden. Thank you!

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