Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mother Nature's Amethyst

Fall in the piney woods of east Texas, brings the colorful leaves of the Sweetgum and Sassafras trees
but nothing compares to the amethyst jewel-like berries of American Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana). This plant also goes by the names French Mulberry, American Mulberry, Spanish Mulberry, Bermuda Mulberry, Sour-bush, Sow-berry.

East Texas, with its rich woods and thickets, provides the perfect growing conditions for this understory plant. It is best suited to semi-shade sites with moisture although it can tolerate full sun if given supplemental watering. And, as we have seen the last couple of years, it can tolerate some drought. It has long arching branches which can be pruned in half in the winter to create a more compact shrub. In summer, Beautyberry has small, greenish-white flowers but Mother Nature blesses this plant with clusters of deep purple berries in late summer and fall.  
Enjoy the berries. . .the seeds are favorites of our Robins and Cedar Waxwings – so much so that the berries will disappear in a matter of days. Birds do the propagating of this plant when they deposit the already ‘fertilized’ seeds. Other critters that enjoy the fruit are armadillos, raccoons, wood rats, foxes, opossums and deer.

American Beautyberry has long been used as a folk remedy to prevent mosquito bites. Old timers talk about crushing the leaves and putting them under the harnesses of their horses and mules to repel flies.
Native Americans used the Beautyberry as a diuretic, a cure for dropsy, dysentery and stomach aches, colic and for sweat baths for the treatment of malaria, rheumatism and fevers. The USDA Agriculture Research Service has patented the 4 chemicals in this plant as a mosquito repellent. However, the toxicity is still unknown. I have tried crushing the leaves and rubbing them on my legs to see if this works and it appears it does. One site I found recommended boiling the leaves, straining and combing the liquid with oil and rubbing it onto the skin. As always, do your own research before trying this.

American Beautyberry berries are edible when fully ripened but only in very small quantities. Again, do your research before sampling. Fully ripened, the berries will be dark purple or magenta but not wrinkled or dry. The berries are mealy and have a medicinal flavor so I don’t know why anyone would eat them. They can be made into a beautiful jelly and there are several recipes on the internet. The jelly tastes of rose petals and champagne. The berries can also be made into wine. Now we are talking!

If you have Beautyberry on your property, consider keeping this plant in your gardens not only for food for wildlife but for the fall eye-candy.

Garden on!


  1. Watching the leaves fall, drinking the berry wine, eating the jam while being protected by its naturally repellant qualities, yahoo

  2. What an awesome place you have!!! I am envious. And your website is fabulous.

  3. Always love your blog!!! Great job!

  4. Keep up the good blogs Ann. I really enjoy them. I have American Beauty Berry in my yard front & back and are so easy to grow. Cardinals and other birds will eat the berries. Thanks.

  5. I thought the drought had killed all my beauty berries, but thankfully, I've noticed a few survivors (or new seedlings). I enjoyed all the information on this shrub. I am going to have to try it out as a mosquito repellent! I should make some jelly, too. The thought of purple jelly that tastes of roses and champagne sounds delightful!