Good Berry Bad Berry - which is which?

Between hiking, wild-crafting expeditions, children on camping trips and a simple walk in the woods, it would help us all to know what is edible and what is not.
Nandina, Heavenly Bamboo, berries
are not recommended for human consumption

Children and pets are especially attracted to berries they see in parks, back yards and in the wild. Curiosity and the impulse to try everything at least once, make the distance very short between a brightly colored berry and a mouth.

To a certain extent, we can avoid all berries other than the ones from the market but not all wild berries are bad. When you can identify the good ones, berry hunting, picking and snacking can be fun. Plus, if your child or pet eats a berry outside you will know if it is a problem that needs immediate attention.

The common plants that produce berries include: Yew, Hawthorn, Cotoneaster, several Viburnum varieties including Viburnum trilobum or American Cranberry, Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina), Autumn  Olive or Elaeagnus umbellate, Poison Ivy, Acai, Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana), Dogwood, Juniper, Mulberry, Sumac, Crabapple, Goji, Pokeweed, Shadbush or serviceberry and Juneberry.

Gardener and writer Helen Yoest wrote the book that will help clear up the berry identification problem. The book is spiral bound for ease of use. Each berry-bearing plant is described and clear photographs help clarify any confusion about which plant is which.

In Yoest’s book, the plant type, leaf shape, flower, berry shape, advice about eating or avoiding and the habitat where it is likely to be found are provided for thirteen bad berries, seven good berries (but a bad idea to eat) and twenty good-to-eat berries.

Beautyberries are used
for making jam.
Evergreen Japanese Privet (Ligustrum japonicum) grows rampantly in our area. The bees flock to the tiny, sweet-smelling flowers in the spring and birds love to eat the seeds. The seedling shrubs pop up by the dozens in our garden beds every spring. For humans the berries are poisonous, causing 72-hour abdominal pain and other symptoms.

Asian Dogwood tree (Cornus Kousa) fruit is also loved by songbirds. Humans can eat these fruits raw or make them into jelly.  Another Asian Dogwood that has edible fruit is Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas).

Coral Berry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), often grown as a durable landscape shrub, has drupes of red berries in the fall. The fruit is sometimes called Indian currant and it thrives among oak trees. Saponin is the chemical in the fruit that can be toxic to some pets and people.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) has gorgeous clusters of pink-purple berries. The fruit, sometimes called French mulberries, is not particularly favored by birds but is completely edible for humans. The fruit is used in preserves and wine as well as eaten raw.

Following the plant descriptions, there is a small section of recipes in the book. Then a list of the berries that are not fully described. Among the edible fruits not included: Crabapple, Rose, Wild Strawberry, Ground Cherry and Snowberry.

The noxious/poisonous fruits and berries that were not included: Jerusalem Cherry, Mistletoe, Castor bean, English Ivy and Lantana.

This little 4 by 6 inch book could be taken along on hikes and camping. “Good Berry Bad Berry” by Helen Yoest, was published 2016 by St. Lynne’s Press. $15

Foraging has become a very popular hobby, with groups going out into vacant land and parks to find free food such as acorns, dandelion leaves, nettles, mushrooms, etc. Two websites that may be of interest are and The book, “Foraging in Oklahoma”, by Chef Andrew Black is available online.

At the Foraging Texas website there is a lengthy list of edible plants that can be found growing in nature, including wild onion, passion vine, sage, cattail tubers, purslane, water hyacinth, etc. 


Unknown said…
Thanks for the review! Helen Yoest, Gardening with Confidence.
Unknown said…
Thanks for the review!!!

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