The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 4 (Poisonous Plants), Chapter 6: Baneberries

Table of Contents

Dear Wood Folk,

Have you seen the plant with doll’s eyes for berries?

In Samuel Thayer’s newest book, Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, he calls baneberry “possibly the most poisonous fleshy berry” in our region. As far as berries go both white (Actaea pachypoda) and red (Actaea rubra) baneberries can make you feel pretty sick.

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda)
White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda)

Baneberries are in the buttercup family, which is showing up a lot in our poison plant diaries due to their parts typically containing toxins like ranunculin.

It’s easy to tell white and red baneberry apart when fruiting. However, there is an uncommon form of red baneberry that produces white berries. And pink berried hybrids are possible too.

Not-so Edible Uses of Baneberry

All parts of baneberries are poisonous, especially the berries and roots. They contain cardiogenic toxins; plural. Forcing down these bitter berries can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

Medicinal Uses of Baneberry

The roots of baneberries have been used carefully in herbalism. Its cousin and somewhat lookalike black cohosh is used much more, however. We’ve only covered blue cohosh so far.

Red baneberry (Actaea rubra)
Red baneberry (Actaea rubra) – they have the black dot too!
Baneberry in flower
Baneberry in flower

Growing Actaea

Doll’s Eyes especially make a nice ornamental plant; both the flowers and berries.

Baneberries grow in partial shade, and love Haliburton’s acidic soil. You should be able to spot it along the edges of woods.

There’s a good chance it’s already there if you have property here; if you do, it’s a sign of a healthy woodland.

Its pollinators are mostly beetles and flies for a change. Deer will avoid baneberry foliage. And rabbits more so- it’s poison to them too! But many birds and small mammals feed on the seeds. Just another reminder that seeing an animal eating a plant does not mean it’s safe for human consumption. Far too often I see that claim in foraging groups – yikes! And I bet it’s making its way into AI books too, double yikes!


Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Sam Thayer’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern & Central North America


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