Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), is also known by the names Bittersweet nightshade, deadly nightshade, climbing nightshade. Pleasant berry, woody nightshade, bitter nightshade, scarlet berry, fellenwort, poison bittersweet, dulcamara, blue nightshade, European bittersweet, dwale, fever twig, morel, poison berry, poison flower, pushin-berry, skawcoo, snake berry, tether-devil, violet-bloom, wolf grape.
The name is from the Latin words “dulcis” and “amarus” meaning sweet and bitter. Solanum comes from the Latin word meaning “nightshade”. The plant was termed, “bittersweet” by those who first tasted the plant and noticed that the root first tasted bitter then sweet
It is found in nearly every one of the United States with the exception of Alaska and Arizona.
It prefers a habitat of marshes, streams, along fence rows and other similar areas, as well as, weedy lots and thickets. It grows abundantly in swamp forests and requires moistened soil, low elevation stream beds and tolerates well mild shade.
With its bright yellow anthers fused into a cone, against a purple corolla. It has bright large red berries and dimorphic leaves ranging from basal lobing to basal leaflets. Its stems can grow up to 7m long, but it is common for them to range between 2m and 4m.
The flowers have no scent; are star-shaped purple with backwards pointing stamens and petals within a yellow cone. They grow in clusters on short stalks that extend outwards from the stems. Occasionally there are angular clusters of violet flowers that are produced from the stems of axils of the leaves. The crushed leaves and bark have an unpleasant smell. Depending upon location and environmental conditions, it can flower between mid-May and September.
This perennial climbing vine or shrub has a hollow, green to gray-brown herbaceous stem that grows up to 3cm in diameter. The base is woody and furrowed and the stems at the apex, die back in the winter. The leaves are spirally on the stem and every leaf bears a single bundle scar. They are dark green to purple with one or two small lobes at the base and they are about 1-2 inches long.
The red berries are highly poisonous and ovoid to ellipsoid, fleshy, about 5-15mm in diameter. Each fruit holds about thirty yellow and flattened seeds that are flat and rounded. Berries are so dangerous to ingest that they can paralyze the nervous system, slow circulation, cause vertigo, delirium and convulsions, as well as, causing death. The unripened green fruits are more toxic than the ripened ones. The Solanine that is found in all species of this genus is the substance that creates its toxicity.
Still, traditionally this narcotic has been used to treat warts, tumors, eruptions and various other skin ailments, cough, diarrhea, eye infections and joint aches.
As a medicinal, the plant should only be used by trained homeopathic physicians, herbalists or integrative practitioners. It should not be used or ingested without the expertise of someone trained and certified in homeopathic or herbal medicine or it could be deadly.
It belongs to the same botanical family as the deadly poison, Belladonna, the Solanaceae family. Like Belladonna, it is toxic and deadly, so be very careful with it. You should wash hands, clothing and even tools immediately upon contact with this toxic substance.