American Bittersweet – Celastrus Scandens: Edible & Medicinal Uses of Our 100th Featured Wild Plant

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In Chippewa, bima’kwud meaning “twisting around”, American bittersweet is much less edible and medicinal than our usual featured plants, but the berries on this vine are stunning in the fall and winter.

Cheers to our 100th plant! Is it bittersweet? Yes and no. Is it very edible and medicinal? Nah. The berries are poisonous, although that’s not the whole story.

American Bittersweet - Celastrus Scandens
American Bittersweet – Celastrus Scandens

If you want to plant or work with American bittersweet, be sure to learn the difference between it and the invasive Asian species. There are also multiple plants named bittersweet.

All of next years plants have been chosen with another couple years worth in the queue. It’ll be bittersweet when I run out. There are nearly 300 known edible and medicinal plants here and close to 1000 species which I hope to photograph and learn about. And I may expand to include all Ontario plants, not just what’s in Haliburton county. Botanical drawings and scientific studies will be added in the future, among other tweaking.

Edible Uses of American Bittersweet

The inner bark of the stem has been boiled as a starvation food. It’s sweetish but sickening tasting. Large doses bring on nausea and vomiting.

All parts of this plant are potentially toxic. Don’t consume if pregnant, trying to conceive or breastfeeding.

Medicinal Uses of American Bittersweet

American bittersweet is primarily said to support these body systems:

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Medicinal tags include Diuretic and Emetic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common, or likely more aptly put, historical usage includes certain parts used to induce sweating, urination or vomiting, but it’s generally not recommended for use.

Alternative Uses of Staff Tree/Vine

It’s primarily a decorative vine.

Growing Celastrus Scandens

If you do go for American bittersweet, make sure they don’t sell you the invasive Asian variety instead. You’ll need a male and a female to produce berries. It will take some pruning. And beware that it can strangle other plants and saplings in its vicinity. Bittersweet nightshade, Dutchman’s pipevine, glaucous honeysuckle, trumpet vine, and virgin’s bower are some of the other native vines in Ontario to look into, which attract more pollinators than Amer. bittersweet. But it’s such a stunning plant in the fall and winter – if the squirrels don’t take all the berries!


Don’t consume if pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

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