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DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

aka Staff Tree
(Celastrus scandens)
image Image

Other parts of the plant are possibly toxic as well!

American Bittersweet is a climbing, twining shrub of rich thickets and the edges of woods from Quebec to Alabama, west to Oklahoma and North Dakota. Amazingly, it can shoot 50 feet up a tree, twist around itself, and over a period of years smother everything around it much like kudzu. Although it grows more slowly, I refer to it a Wudzu, for its ability to take over an area. Once established in a flower bed or garden, you can fight it for years and still lose the battle. Highly invasive and of little use except as craft material. The woody vines do make a great wreath and the berries make an attractive autumn decoration, but should never be used around children or pets. The LEAVES are ovate to oblong, sharply pointed, and fine toothed. FLOWERS are greenish and appear in clusters. The FRUIT capsule is orange to orange-gold and splits open upon maturity to reveal the scarlet seed (berry) within.

ORIENTAL BITTERSWEET (C. orbiculatus): An Asian species with flowers in groups of up to 3 in axillary cymes. In Chinese medicine its uses are similar to those of C. scandens.

Although Native Americans certainly knew about the toxic properties of the berries, they found uses for other parts of the plant. The root bark was made into a tea and used as a diaphoretic, diuretic, and emetic as well as treatment during the pain of childbirth. Some tribes used a leaf tea for diarrhea and dysentary.
A tea of the root bark was used in American folk medicine for chronic liver and skin diseases, rheumatism, leukorrhea, delayed menses. An extract of the root bark in ointment form was used for burns, scrapes, and skin eruptions.
Root bark extracts are possibly cardio-active.

Despite its possible toxicity, some Native American tribes (notably of Minnesota and Wisconsin) boiled the inner bark and twigs to remove the bitter princeple and ate them, considering them sweet in flavor.

©2005 by Ernestina Parziale, CH