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How to Determine if Berries Are Edible

By Cindy Hamilton

When summer hits, wild berries become abundant. Some berries are easy to recognize and can be picked without hesitation. However, other berries may appear edible but can cause you trouble, either by giving you an upset stomach or an allergy attack; some may even be poisonous. Although wild berries may look appealing, you should become familiar with them to know which ones are edible and which ones to avoid.

Buy a berry field guide and use it as your best defense against picking berries that are not for human consumption. You can find books that will have color photographs and detailed information on how to identify the plant, the leaves, the berries and its common habitat.

Avoid berries that grow on a vine as most of these are poisonous, cause allergic reactions or make you sick. One good example is the poison ivy. Poison ivy has three-leaf clusters growing alternately on the hairy, thornless vine. Ripe berries of the poison ivy turn whitish to pale green in color. Another dangerous berry is the American bittersweet. It is commonly used for fall wreaths. It has yellow-orange or red berries and can cause diarrhea when eaten.

Look for berries that are black or blue in color such as trailing blackberry, dewberry and black cap raspberry, whose ripe berries turn deep red to black. But don't eat them unless you can make a positive identification. If you are unsure if a berry is safe to eat, don't risk it. Look for wild berries that you already know. They may be smaller than the cultivated counterparts but they will taste as good, if not better.

Warnings

Remember that bears love to eat berries, too. So if you find a large area where there are thick bushes, make a lot of noise before you approach the bush.

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