American Beauty Berry, Callicarpa americana, is a nifty little bush that I actually came across growing outside of my office window. Like most of the plants I talk about, after figuring out that this bush that I almost cut down was useful, I dove down the research rabbit hole. Once you learn to recognize plants that you have come across, you will find them EVERYWHERE. And I have. There is a small patch growing down by the pond as well.
You can read about something all day long, but until you put that knowledge into practice, it may very well not stick when you need it most. If you are able, I urge you to go out and find what grows near you.
Beauty berry plants produce magenta to dark purple berries, mainly used for making jelly. There is also C. japonica, the white berried Japanese variety of beauty berry which is also edible. The berries generally lack flavor raw, with a mealy texture, but the entire plant has other uses as well. Root bark has been used in tisanes (basically an infusion, but being bark you may benefit from looking into decoctions as well) for dysentery and stomach aches. The leaves/root has also been used in soothing sweats baths for rheumatism. Birds and squirrels both absolutely love beauty berries, so you have competition if you are hunting down jam berries.
If you are going to eat the berries, it is best to try in small amounts first to make sure they aren’t going to mess with your stomach. Some people may suffer from stomach upset from the berries, but not all.
For the best mosquito repellent, you actually need to distill or extract the Callicarpenal that is in the leaves, which scientists have said is stronger than DEET. You just can’t get that strength of repellent by rubbing crushed leaves on you.
You can click here to read a post on bug repelling plants that every person living in the woods should have around.
The large leaves are grape-like and grow 2 at a time, across from each other every few inches down the branch. Leaves are about hand length, with small toothed edges. Alternating veins stem off center vein. Leaves appear in late spring. Clusters of purple/pink flowers form at base of leaves in early summer. Flowers quickly become small white/pink berries that then turn magenta to dark purple in late summer and early fall. Research shows that the leaves have compounds similar to DEET in mosquito spray, but the toxicity of leaves has not been determined, so rub crushed leaves onto clothes rather than bare skin. And don’t chew to crush, but I would hope that goes without saying. Plants usually grow 3′-5′, but can get upwards of 9 feet tall in some areas.
If you look close, you can see the developing berries on the stems. They form in clusters around the stem, at the base of the leaves, rather than hanging off of the plant like Pokeweed for instance. Once ripe they will turn a beautiful fuchsia color.
Bush is around 4-5 feet tall. Plentiful around the base of oak trees in my area.
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Emma Lee Joy