Snowberry: the Poison Berry

The unique snowberry,  often called the waxberry, Ice Apple or ghostberry, is a fruit native to North and Central America. These 1-2 cm berries are soft, ranging from white to pinkish red in color (one species, however, is purple).  Inside, the flesh of this fruit looks just like  sparkling, fine snow.


Soft, white, conspicuous snowberries–unfortunately they’re poisonous.

Snowberry shrubs are considered good dwelling places for animals; for example, birds can easily make nests in the branches.  Snowberries are an important food source for pheasants, quails, and grouse in the wintertime, and for mammals such as bears.  Snowberry bush stems are food for mice and rabbits as well as deer and elk which feed on its vegetation.  Various insects such as types of butterflies and moths eat from its leaves.

Though these conspicuous berries can be ingested by numerous animals, unfortunately they are toxic to humans.  If they are eaten, the person will probably feel dizziness and vomiting.  These berries, when smashed into water, foam up.  Strangely, however, Native Americans used the snowberry to settle the stomach after meals, and to kill fish in streams.

The snowberry bush is quite attractive.  In the spring, or perhaps the summer, sunlight shines through the round green leaves, speckled with white and pink berries.  Many berries stay on the bush during winter, and provide animals with food in case its scarce.  Otherwise, they drop to the ground.  Seeds are spread by birds to regrow into more bushes.

One thought on “Snowberry: the Poison Berry

  1. Brad

    “These berries, when smashed into water, foam up. – to kill fish in streams.”

    must be high in saponins
    in the Amazon region, there are a few plants used for that purpose as well,
    some saponins can be medicinal in small quantities

    from PFAF…
    Snowberry was commonly employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who valued it especially for the saponins it contains. These saponins can be toxic, but when applied externally they have a gentle cleansing and healing effect upon the skin, killing body parasites and helping in the healing of wounds. The native Americans used it to treat a variety of complaints but especially as an external wash on the skin[257]. The plant is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism. Any internal use of this plant should be carried out with care, and preferably under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. See the notes above on toxicity. The whole plant is disinfectant, diuretic, febrifuge and laxative[257]. An infusion of the stems has been drunk to treat stomach problems and menstrual disorders[213]. A decoction of the leaves has been used in the treatment of colds[257]. A poultice of the chewed leaves has been applied, or an infusion of the leaves has been used as a wash, in the treatment of external injuries[257]. A weak solution of the stems and leaves has been used as a wash for children whilst a stronger solution is applied to sores[213]. The fruit has been eaten, or used as an infusion, in the treatment of diarrhoea[257]. An infusion of the fruit has been used as an eye wash for sore eyes[257].The berries have been rubbed on the skin as a treatment for burns, rashes, itches and sores[257]. The berries have also been rubbed on warts in order to get rid of them – this treatment needs to be carried out at least three times a day for a period of a few weeks[257]. A poultice of the crushed leaves, fruit and bark has been used in the treatment of burns, sores, cuts, chapped and injured skin[257]. An infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of fevers (including childhood fevers), stomach aches and colds[257]. A decoction of the root bark has been used in the treatment of venereal disease and to restore the flow of urine[257]. An infusion of the root has been used as an eyewash for sore eyes[257]. An infusion of the whole plant has been drunk and also applied externally in the treatment of skin rashes[257]. A decoction of the roots and stems has been used in the treatment of the inability to urinate, venereal disease, tuberculosis and the fevers associated with teething sickness[257].

    edible uses…
    Fruit – raw or cooked[2, 105, 161]. An insipid flavour, it is best if cooked[177]. The fruit is rather boring[K]. The fruit is about 15mm in diameter[200]. See the notes at top of page regarding possible toxicity.


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