In the Wild
American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)
*Also known as false bittersweet
European Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara)
*Also known as bitter nightshade, climbing nightshade, woody nightshade, and violet-bloom
American bittersweet is a perennial woody vine with clusters of greenish-white flowers that bloom from May to June. Its pointed, oval leaves are yellowish-green. In the autumn, the round, red berry is surrounded by a “jacket” that looks like yellow-orange petals. American bittersweet is found in wooded areas, thickets, and rocky slopes.
European bittersweet is a perennial vine with woody lower stems. The leaves are dark-green and deeply lobed with a large, arrow-shaped center lobe and two small lobes at its base. The star-shaped flower has a prominent, yellow cone at the center and purple, backward-arching petals. Blooming for several months during the summer, the flowers give way to round berries. The berries start out green, and then change color to yellow, then orange, and finally red. This does not happen all at once and you may find the full range of colored berries on a single plant. European bittersweet is found in backyards, edges of fields, vacant lots, and roadsides. The leaves are just as toxic as the berries if ingested.
The species name dulcamara for European bittersweet refers to the flavor of the berries that are first bitter and then sweet.104 It is said to be an unpleasant sweetness and certainly not worth the risk to find out, as it can be deadly. The berries of American bittersweet are also toxic when ingested. Always handle any parts of these plants with care.
Write the name of something or someone you no longer want in your life on a piece of paper. Wrap three bittersweet berries in the paper, put it in a box for three weeks, and then take the paper and berries outside to burn and bury. Bittersweet can also be used in this way to remove spells and hexes. On Samhain, place a sprig or two of dried berries on your altar to represent the bitter sweet sorrow in remembering loved ones who have passed to the other side of the veil.
Bittersweet is associated with the element air and the goddess Hecate. Its astrological influence comes from Mercury, Pluto, and Saturn.