Giovanni is a college student studying international business and enjoys researching and writing informational articles.
7 Poisonous Berries (Some of Them Can Kill You!)
These seven berries can be found in the wild—here you can read about their physical appearance, the qualities that make them so dangerous, and the effects of consuming them.
- Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)
- Moonseed (Menispermum)
- White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda)
- Elderberry (Sambucus)
- Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
- Mezereon (Daphne mezereum)
- Flax-Leaved Daphne (Daphne gnidium)
1. Deadly Nightshade (Atropa Belladonna)
Atropa belladonna, commonly known as "deadly nightshade," or "belladonna," is a perennial herb native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. It has also been naturalized in parts of North America. Throughout the ages, the plant has been used as a medicine, cosmetic, and poison. Other plants in the nightshade family include tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, tobacco, and chili peppers. The term belladonna means "beautiful woman" in Italian.
The deadly nightshade grows from a fleshy rootstock, often as a subshrub to around 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) tall with 18 centimeter-long (7.1 inches) oval-shaped leaves. Its flowers are bell-shaped and purple with greenish tinges. Its fruits are berries that start out green and ripen to a shiny black. The berries are around 1 cm (0.39 inches) in diameter.
Deadly nightshade is one of the most toxic plants in the eastern hemisphere as all parts of the plant contain tropane alkaloids. The berries of the plant pose the greatest hazard to children because of their attractive appearance and sweet taste.
Consumption of 2–5 berries could kill an adult human. The maximum single dose for an adult human is 200 mg. The symptoms of belladonna poisoning include:
Sensitivity to light
Loss of balance
The deadly symptoms disrupt the parasympathetic nervous system (involuntary activities such as sweating, heart rate, and breathing), leading to death if not treated.
2. Moonseed (Menispermum)
Menispermum, or "moonseed," is a small type of climbing woody vine in the genera Cocculus, and it is particularly native to North America and Asia. The name moonseed comes from the shape of the seed, which looks like a crescent moon. The term Menispermum is derived from the Greek words mene, which means moon, and sperma, meaning seed.
Its green leaves are around 5–20 cm in diameter, and its berries are around 1–1.5 cm in diameter. The berries are black in color and resemble that of the fox grape, making it very dangerous as the moonseed fruit is poisonous. It occurs in moist woods, thickets, and the banks of streams.
All parts of the moonseed plant are poisonous, and children have been killed from eating the berries. It is described to have a "rank" taste. General symptoms of overdose include convulsions and death.
3. White Baneberry (Actaea Pachypoda)
Actaea pachypoda, also known as "white baneberry," or "dolls'-eyes," is a perennial herb native to eastern North America.
White baneberry grows up to 50 cm or taller (1.5–2 feet) and 91 cm (3 feet) wide. The plant prefers to grow in partial to full shade and rich loamy soil, and it requires regular water. Its white flowers are produced in spring. It produces a berry 1 cm in diameter that is round and white with a black dot in the middle, giving the species its nickname—dolls'-eyes. The entire plant, especially the berries, is poisonous to humans.
The berries contain cardiogenic toxins—the most poisonous part of the plant—which can have an immediate sedative effect on cardiac muscle tissue. Ingestion of the berries can lead to cardiac arrest (heart attack) and death. All parts of the plant can be toxic to humans if consumed in large quantities. After consuming a toxic dose, humans may experience symptoms such as:
- Severe stomach cramps,
- Headache, and
4. Elderberry (Sambucus)
Sambucus or elderberry is a genus of flowering plants containing 5–30 species. It is a perennial herb and occurs in temperate to subtropical regions of the world, more widespread in the northern hemisphere. Its Southern Hemisphere occurrence is restricted to Australasia and South America. The uncooked berries and other parts of the plant are poisonous; however, the species Sambucus nigra is the only elderberry species considered to be non-toxic.
The leaves are composed of around 5–9 leaflets, each 5–30 cm long (2–11.8 inches). They bear large clusters of small white or cream-colored flowers in spring. These are followed by clusters of small black, blue-black, or red berries. The berries are rarely yellow or white.
The entire elderberry plant is poisonous to humans because it can contain cyanide-inducing glycosides, which give rise to cyanide as the metabolism processes it. Ingesting a sufficient amount of these cyanide-inducing glycosides can cause a toxic buildup of cyanide in the body, which can be fatal.
Typically, symptoms of toxicity are experienced after consuming beverages made from the berries, flowers, or branches of the elderberry plant. After consuming a toxic dose of elderberry, humans may experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Consuming the seeds may also cause vomiting or diarrhea.
5. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria Majalis)
If you've seen AMC's hit show Breaking Bad, then you probably already know about Convallaria majalis, better known as "lily of the valley." If not, you're missing out on a great series. Either way, here's why it made the list:
Lily of the valley is a highly poisonous woodland flowering plant, native throughout the cool temperate northern hemisphere in Asia, Europe, and in the southern Appalachian Mountains in the United States.
The stems grow to 15–30 cm tall (6–11.8 inches) with one or two leaves 10–25 cm (4–9.8 inches) long. It has a raceme of about 5–15 sweetly scented bell-shaped flowers on the stem apex. The flowers have six white tepals with a 5–10 mm diameter. The fruit of the plant is a small orange-red berry, 5–7 mm in diameter, which contains a few large seeds.
All parts of lily of the valley are highly poisonous, especially the red berries, which may be attractive to children. If ingested even in small amount, the plant can cause:
- Abdominal pain,
- Fatigue, and
- Reduced heart rate.
Around 38 different cardiac glycosides have been found in lily of the valley that can lead to cardiac arrest (heart attack) and death.
6. Mezereon (Daphne Mezereum)
Daphne mezereum, commonly known as "mezereon," is a species of Daphne native to most of Europe, Western Asia, Scandinavia, and Russia.
It is a shrub that grows up to 1.5 meters tall (4.9 feet) and has soft leaves that are 3–8 cm long (1.1–3 inches). The flowers are produced in early spring before the leaves appear. The fruit is a bright red berry, 7–12 mm in diameter, and is very poisonous for humans.
Mezereon is very toxic because of the compounds mezerein and daphnin present in its berries and twigs. If poisoned, victims first experience a choking sensation (burning and tingling of the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, and stomach). This is followed by headache, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
Mezereon has irritant and blistering properties; contact with the sap can cause swelling and blisters.
Ingesting one or two berries can cause stomach upset in adults, and ingesting more berries can even be fatal.
7. Flax-Leaved Daphne (Daphne Gnidium)
Daphne gnidium, commonly known as "flax-leaved daphne," is an evergreen shrub indigenous to the Mediterranean region. It is commonly found in fields, hillsides, and woodlands. It has narrow, dark-green foliage and white fragrant flowers. Like the mezereum, it is within a genus of between 50 and 95 other species of Daphne.
The branches of flax-leaved daphne are around 1.5–2 m (4.11–6.7 feet) tall. The leaves are dark green with sticky undersides. Its fruit is orange-red and about 8 mm in diameter. It produces during autumn.
All parts of the flax-leaved daphne plant are highly poisonous. Skin contact with the sap can cause dermatitis. If ingested, the chance of death is small but most likely to occur within six hours of consumption. Severe anabolic and digestive reactions are expected, and it's especially toxic to children.
Top 7 Most Deadly Berries
1. Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)
1 cm diameter; they start out green and ripen to shiny black
2. Moonseed (Menispermum)
1–1.5 cm diameter; black in color
3. White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda)
1 cm diameter; white with a black dot in the middle
4. Elderberry (Sambucus)
Small, blue-black, or red berries
5. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
5–7 mm diameter; orange-red in color with a few large seeds
6. Mezereon (Daphne mezereum)
7–12 mm diameter; bright red in color
7. Flax-Leaved Daphne (Daphne gnidium)
8 mm diameter; orange-red in color
Beware of Berries in the Wild
- Not all animals are affected by poisonous plants. If you see a bird, for example, eating a berry, that doesn't mean it isn't poisonous to humans or other animals.
- Never eat a berry if you aren't sure what it is, especially if it is red or black.
- There are many poisonous and deadly plants in the world; however, only those with highly poisonous berries are discussed in this article. Beware of other mysterious plants you encounter in the wild!
- “Actaea Pachypoda - Plant Database.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, The University of Texas at Austin, 4 Dec. 2012, www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=acpa.
- “Daphne.” British Columbia Drug and Poison Information Centre (BC DPIC), BC Drug and Poison Information Centre, 2017, www.dpic.org/faq/daphne.
- “Daphne Mezereum.” Daphne Mezereum (Daphne, February Daphne, Spurge Laurel) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, NC State - North Carolina Extension Gardner Plant Toolbox, plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/daphne-mezereum/#:~:text=HIGHLY%20TOXIC%2C%20MAY%20BE%20FATAL,blisters%20upon%20contact%20with%20leaves.
- Roberts, D. M., Gallapatthy, G., Dunuwille, A., & Chan, B. S. (2015). Pharmacological treatment of cardiac glycoside poisoning. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 81(3), 488–495. https://doi.org/10.1111/bcp.12814
- Senica, M; Stampar, F; Veberic, R; Mikulic-Petkovsek, M (2016). "The higher the better? Differences in phenolics and cyanogenic glycosides in Sambucus nigra leaves, flowers and berries from different altitudes". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 97 (8): 2623–2632.
- Ulbricht, C., Basch, E., Hammerness, P., Vora, M., Wylie, J., & Woods, J. (2005). An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Belladonna by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Journal Of Herbal Pharmacotherapy, 4(4), 61–90. https://doi.org/10.1300/j157v04n04_06
- Whitney, Stephen. Western Forests. Knopf, 1942.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2014 Giovanni
Roshan on September 01, 2020:
Nice information .
H. Huisman on December 27, 2019:
This is the first I ever heard of Elderberries being toxic.
I have been using elderberry blossoms for pancakes and tea,
the berries for jams and the juice of the berries to drink all of my life.
Elderberry wine is good as well, though I never made it myself.
Next year I am turning 80.
Sempais #1 secret admirer advratiser on October 23, 2019:
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McMitch on July 06, 2019:
I know this is an ancient article, but I hope that whoever thought this one up did just a little more research on this topic before putting their name to it. You're obviously mistaken elderberry with pokeberry, which is the one that has traces of cyanide. Elderberry has been around since the beginning, and is very popular in jams, pies, and especially alcohol production. Even the pokeberry plant itself is edible when young shoots are harvested and cooked and consumed. This is more common than one would think, especially in the more southern states. People should be encouraged to try elderberries. They are small and somewhat tart, but delicuous eaten fresh off the plant and have so many needed nutrients. I hope readers weren't scared away from one of nature's snacks by someone who was most likely misinformed. I only say that because if the proper research was done, which is now typically a simple google search, one would realize that this is actually a great fruit for anyone who had an interest foraging. Once you see it in person it is almost impossible to misidentify.
Fox A. on September 12, 2018:
I nibbled on the berries that have a red stem and black berries. Only because I walk to school and i was curious they tast like grass and after awhile the back of my throught stung but not that bad. I recommend that you do not eat them!!!!!
Mikala H. on September 09, 2018:
I hope I never run into those other berries I live by the Nightshade my sister got a hold of it and never told us so I wish she could be here now....., But I do like this hub thanks for that cya!!! :)
Kaitlyn Barnes on December 05, 2017:
One of the plants I live by, So i tried it. I took the white flower off the end and nibbled at it, But it tasted gross so i left it. Later on, my mouth was feeling worse and worse as it stung. I ended up biting my lip till it was bleeding! Anyway, Hope that would help with the Elderberry i think it is... The picture below. It didn't kill me, but it stung!
Ken Williams on July 07, 2014:
Thanks for posting this great hub! I don't make a habit of eating random berries I find, but perhaps I could start now that I know which to avoid :)
Giovanni (author) from the United States on June 25, 2014:
Thanks thumbi7! Your hubs have great photos as well.
JR Krishna from India on June 25, 2014:
Very interesting hub. Your photos are beautiful.
Giovanni (author) from the United States on June 24, 2014:
Thanks for commenting Leslie. You can't beat the taste of wild berries that's for sure!
Leslie A. Shields from Georgia on June 24, 2014:
God has saved many a kid over the years... We would taste any berry that grew on a tree, bush or alongside the neighbors fence.... But for the grace of the Living God I would have been dead a long time ago!