Foraging for Food: Identifying Poisonous Berries


Even if you’re not prepping for an apocalypse, knowing how to forage for food in the wild is a useful skill to have. Properly identifying plants and berries can mean the difference between survival and death. Knowing identifying properties of common poisonous berries in the U.S. will go a long way toward helping you forage safely.


A Word of Warning

This is by no means an extensive guide on poisonous berries, and if possible you should always carry a field guide to help you identify plants. Never eat something that you can’t identify or are unsure of, unless it’s a complete emergency – better safe than sorry. It would be better to go hungry for a little while than to eat something that makes you sick.


Plenty of wild berries waiting to be plucked - - 583340

Berry Buddies

All the berries listed below are edible and relatively common in the United States. Even better news: Not only are these berries abundant but also pretty easily identifiable – making them a safe option for berry foraging.


    • Rosehips are oval or circular-shaped reddish-orange berries that grow on rose plants; they’re a great source of vitamin C and could be essential to preventing scurvy if no other sources of this vitamin are available. Rosehips have a slightly acidic taste with a hint of sweetness. If eating the berries raw and whole, it is best to avoid the hairs sprouting from the top and running through the berry, as they have irritating properties.


    • Blackberries grow wild across the states to the point that some people even consider them invasive. Blackberries can be identified by their small, deep purple, circular clusters, which may have little hairs on the berry. Unripe berries are red or green and while they’re not poisonous, they’re far too bitter and sour to enjoy. Take care when picking as the plants are covered in small thorns.


  • Wild strawberries can be found in abundance all over the United States. The berries are delicious but tiny, so filling up on them could take quite a while. They looks like strawberries except much smaller. The leaves and roots of this plant can also be used to treat diarrhea, making them useful medicine if conventional products aren’t available.


Bad Berries

Some poisonous berries look downright delicious, making them especially dangerous to those who are curious or hungry. Knowing what poison berries are native to your area and what they look like is a great first step in learning how to safely forage.

    • The pokeweed has juicy, deep purple berries that migrating birds and deer will happily eat, but humans should stay away from these enticing plants. These berries are identifiable by grape-like clusters of purple-black berries with fuchsia-colored stalks that may grow up to 8 feet tall. A handful can kill a small child. These plants can cause convulsions, seizures, rapid pulse, slow or difficult breathing and vomiting, among other symptoms.


    • Don’t assume a berry is safe because you see birds or other animals eating it. Birds love to eat moonseed, but to humans it is a toxic and potentially lethal plant that could be confused for grapevines. Moonseed can cause vomiting, trouble breathing, trouble swallowing and death if enough are ingested.

      While the moonseed may look like grapes, muscadines are a real grapevine species that thrives in warm and humid climates. Most muscadines will be deep purple or nearly black on the outside when ripe, but there are also large greenish or bronze muscadines known as scuppernongs, which are native to the southern United States. Muscadines are sweet and edible, with a thick skin.


  • Holly is a common plant with small red berries. While the leaves and berries have a low toxicity, it’s still enough to cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can be fatal in a survival situation.


While foraging probably won’t be enough to sustain you, it is a great way to supplement your stock and keep you from running out of food completely. Being able to live off the bounty of nature is a survival skill that we should all know how to utilize in case of emergency. These berries can be a vital source of nutrients in survival situations, but eating the wrong thing can end in disaster. Research the plants in your area and try finding a guide to help you identify the plants around your home to become familiar with what you could eat if necessary.


Alicia grew up in Alaska where she earned her hunter and wilderness safety license at age 13. She now works as a content coordinator for a tech company in Pennsylvania and blogs in her free time at Homey Improvements.


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