Frequently (and not so frequently) Asked Questions
BRIEF: Are the berries from a viburnum dentatum Chicago lustre poisonous?
I am trying to find out if the berries from a viburnum dentatum Chicago lustre are poisonous.
Good question. While popularly considered poisonous, I have never found any cases in the literature of actual poisoning. The cooked fruit has been used for food by Native Americans and European descendents alike, and both the bark and fruit are used as antispasmodics and to prevent miscarriage. I would assume that the active principles may also have toxic effects at a sufficient dose. I think that it is very significant that every food and medicinal use of these berries (or bark in the case of medicine) is following cooking, usually boiling. Jams, pies, teas, etc., all involved heat and moisture. It could very well be that there are toxic substances which are inactivated or at least attenuated by boiling. It seems like we would know more about such a common plant is such long use, but we don't. I don't know of any use of the raw berries, and if they did make one sick, then that would explain the popular (and in that case correct) beliefs concerning this plant.. The bark from cotton root causes strong uterine contractions and has been used by Southwestern Indians and Southern slaves both to help expell a child after long labor and to produce abortions. Viburnum prunifolium was employed by slaveowners to counteract the effects of cotton root bark taken by women attempting such abortions. [1882 Can. Pharm. J. 275 as cited on page 150 by Erichsen-Brown in Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants]. That is a different species in the genus, but I thought you might find that interesting...