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Poisonous berries of BC, how to forage safely

yew berry

Vancouverites love their berries! Wild blackberries, huckleberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries and raspberries; there are so many in summer it can be exciting for people that love to gather and eat free treats.  My favourite BC berry is the thimbleberry which is like a raspberry but sweeter and more intense. So you know a few edibles, but which ones should you learn to avoid?

Our wildcraft experts teach monthly spring and summer foraging programs that can teach you how to easily differentiate the poisonous from the edible so you can safely enjoy wild tasty offerings this summer. Book Now

Common berries you shouldn’t eat

Twinberry (Loricera involutcrata) – Mildly toxic because it tends to absorb toxins from its surroundings easily. This shrub has shiny black berries and grows all over the North shore mountains near rivers. The berries are very distinctive and grow in two berry clusters about the size of a blueberry, flowers are bell-shaped and yellow in fused bract pairs. Leaves are oval and pointed at the tip. They are called raven’s food or monster food by some indigenous peoples. There are no recorded poisonings by his berry, some sites even list them as edible, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Last Photo

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) – This is an easy one to avoid, just don’t ever eat any white berries as none of them are edible in our area. Middle photo.

Red elderberry ( Sambucus racemosa) – The stems, bark, leaves, roots and seeds are toxic, but the fruit pulp itself is edible (cooked) though not tasty in my opinion. Some indigenous peoples make a cooked jam of the berries and strain out the seeds. The toxicity is the same as in apple seeds which contain a form of cyanide if chewed/eaten raw.  The berries also may cause nausea.

English Holly (Ilex aquifolia) – These red berries are good food for birds but not for us, leaves are have sharp pointed spines.

Western Yew (Taxus brevifolia) – VERY poisonous. These red berries look a bit like a red huckleberry. The seed of the berry is very toxic though the flesh is listed as edible.  Header image.

Queen’s Cup (Clintonia uniflora) – It’s dark blue berries are listed as inedible.  First Photo below.

In urban cities like Vancouver; there are many more non-native berries that people plant in their yards which may have toxic properties or be edible, this article is focusing on the native species that you may find in the wilderness near coastal south-western BC cities.

Any more common poisonous wild plants in the Vancouver area to add to my list? Message us below…