Purple Berries: They Look Alike...
But are they both good to
eat? Can you tell them apart? Can your child tell them apart?
The berries on the
left are grapes. Of course, they are good to eat! The berries
on the right are pokeberries. Eating them can make you sick.
At this time of year, the
poison center gets a lot of calls every day about children who ate
purple berries. Usually, they picked pokeberries growing in their
yards. The tell-tale clue is purple stains in and around the mouth,
on their hands, and on their clothing.
To a child, pokeberries
look like grapes: clusters of purple berries hang from stems,
usually at a child’s level. Adults can easily tell pokeberries from
grapes by their red stems, which don’t look like woody grapevines at
Pokeweed is a shrub with
multiple red stems. Individual plants may be a few feet tall or
adult height. In the spring, young poke leaves are cooked as “poke
salad”; leaves must be boiled and drained twice to be eaten safely.
During the summer, clusters of white flowers turn into green
berries. By August, many or most of these berries have become shiny
and purple. The plants grow from deep tap roots which are hard to
Children who eat a berry
or two are not likely to develop symptoms. Eating several berries,
though, can cause a lot of stomach distress: pain, nausea, vomiting,
and diarrhea. Adults have eaten the roots, mistaking them for
medicinal plants. Serious gastrointestinal problems have occurred,
including bloody vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and low blood pressure.
Pokeweed will die back in
the frost. It’s difficult to keep it out of your yard because of the
deep root. How can you prevent children from eating pokeberries?
The best way to keep
very young children safe is to watch them closely outdoors.
Consider digging up
pokeweed plants or cutting them down, though that might be difficult when the
plant is large.
If you find pokeweed
in your yard, you might consider keeping it cut down when it
reappears next year.
Children should be
taught never to eat wild berries unless they first check with an
If your child eats
pokeberries, rinse out his or her mouth and give some water or milk
to drink. Then, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222.
The specialist in poison information will ask some questions about
your child and what he or she ate. Then, you’ll be told what to do.
Often, watching a child at home will be enough; the poison center
will stay in touch with you by phone. If emergency department care
is needed, the poison center expert will advise the emergency
department doctor about the best treatment.