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Baneberry Fruit

Baneberry (Actaea) is a genus of flowering plants. The berries are the most poisonous part of the plant. It can be described as a bushy plant with large, highly divided leaves and a short, thick, rounded cluster of small white flowers in leaf axils or at stem ends. The branched, 1-3 ft. stems of this perennial bear two or three large compound leaf, each thrice divided. The fruit is a glossy red berry. There is a small dark spot on the tip end of each berry, the remains of the style. Fruits mature in late August through September in upstate New York.


Baneberry fruit changes colour when seed is mature. The berries of Red Baneberry (and White Baneberry) are very poisonous if ingested and may affect the nervous system. European species have fatally poisoned children, but baneberries are not reported to have caused death to humans or livestock in the United States. The “bane” in baneberry indicates that the plant can cause illness or even death if ingested. However, many types of birds feed on them fruits without ill effect.


But nevertheless, the degree of toxicity of the baneberry is open to some legitimate disputation, as there is little documentation beyond hearsay evidence of the occasionally purported fatal result of ingestion. The generally toxic nature of the red baneberry berries was well known to the Native Americans; the juice was applied to the tips of arrows to impart to them a secondary and more insidious lethality for more effective venery.


The whole plant, but especially the root, is analgesic, antirheumatic, galactogogue and rubefacient, a tea made from the root is used as an appetizer, in the treatment of stomach pains, coughs, colds, menstrual irregularities, post partum pains, to increase milk flow and as a purgative after childbirth. An infusion of the roots has been used externally to treat itchy skin and as a gargle for sore throats.


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