How to identify poisonous berries

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How to identify poisonous berries
How to spot poisonous berries in the wild. Close-up of ripe blueberries on vine outdoors (Getty Thinkstock)

While berry bushes offer colourful variations for your garden, they may be toxic if ingested. Unfortunately, poisonous berry bushes vary greatly in their appearance, making identification of some toxic varieties difficult. To protect yourself, it's best to learn which berries are edible.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Expect black and blue berries to be edible more often than red berries. White berries are the least likely to be edible. Of course, there are some inedible black berries and edible red berries.

  2. 2

    Memorise a short list of edible berries, including blackberries, blueberries, wild strawberries, mulberries and dewberries. Remember that some poisonous berries mimic edible varieties.

  3. 3

    Learn to identify berries that are known to be poisonous, including Holly, Mistletoe, Jasmine, Yew, Lantana, Moonseed, Nightshade, Daphne, Castor Oil, Boston Ivy, English Ivy, Virginia Creeper and Privot.

  4. 4

    Call your local cooperative extension to locate classes which teach you how to identify plants. This will help you separate a safe berry from its inedible mimic.

  5. 5

    Buy a plant identification book to carry with you while walking in the woods. If you see a berry that looks similar to an edible berry, examine all parts of the plant and use your book to be sure that you have found a truly edible berry.

Tips and warnings

  • If you are uncertain about the safety of a particular berry, cut off a 15cm (6-inch) portion of the bush, including the berry, leaves and flower. Take it to your local cooperative extension for positive identification.
  • Don't eat a berry if you cannot identify it with absolute certainty.
  • Don't assume that a berry is safe to eat just because you see birds or other animals eating it.

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