Can you tell the difference between edible and poisonous berries?

Edible and Poisonous Berries featured image

by Janie Hynson

I recently met Helen Yoest who is an expert edible and waterwise gardener, garden stylist, and particularly an advocate for creating pollinator-friendly backyards. Lucky for me, I live in the same city as Helen so have been able to join her garden club! But even from afar you can benefit from her expertise by checking out her blog Gardening with Confidence and pollinator resources on Bee Better.

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In addition to writing for many local and national home and gardening magazines, Helen has authored three books including Good Berry, Bad Berry: Who’s Edible, Who’s Toxic, and How to Tell the Difference, which I was eager to review.

Good Berry, Bad Berry by Helen Yoest book cover

The format of this spiral bound and nearly pocket-sized book is perfect for taking along in your garden or on a nature walk to find wild berries.

In the book, Helen explains that her interest in berries began with memories of picking chokeberries from a tree along her walk to elementary school and mulberries in her childhood backyard. 

In the introduction, she shares several helpful tips and warnings about avoiding toxic berries, such as: consider all vine fruits (except for wild grapes) to be poisonous unless you learn otherwise, watch out for bears and herbicides when picking berries, and remember that while no poisonous plants taste good not all plants that taste bad are poisonous. However, these are just some of the basics, and there are many specifics throughout the book about identifying poisonous berries.

Good Berry, Bad Berry, and Good Berry/Bad Idea

While the book skips over some very obviously edible berries (like strawberries and blueberries), this leaves more room to focus on 40 of the most common wild or cultivated berries that most people wouldn’t know nearly as much about.

These 40 berries are divided into three categories (good berry, bad berry, and good berry/bad idea). For each berry, there are photos and information about the type of plant (size, leaves, flowers, etc.), where it grows, whether and how it is poisonous, symptoms you may experience, and more.

For those classified as a good berry/bad idea, Helen explains why it’s a bad idea to eat the berry. For example, some berries are not edible when raw, but can be eaten when prepared a certain way.

Make a Natural Source of Pectin for Your Jellies and Jams

Throughout the book, Helen specifies whether or not a berry requires added pectin when it’s being made into a jam or jelly. I thought it was interesting that some berries contain pectin naturally so it does not need to be added.

One of these berries is aronia. And these berries can also be reduced to create an infusion which can be used as pectin when making jams and jellies with other berries.

Here’s how to make this pectin-rich aronia juice:

  1. Cover your aronia berries with water and simmer for about 10 minutes until they soften.
  2. Strain the berries through cheesecloth.
  3. Use the dark, somewhat sour juice as you would use commercial pectin.

In the book, there are other recipes including for aronia jelly, a fresh mulberry tart, goji berry and pumpkin seed biscotti, and more!

Other Yummy Canned Fruit Recipes

Janie Hynson is a beginning homesteader in North Carolina. She recently moved back to her hometown after living in Boston for six years and then traveling across the U.S. working on organic farms. Janie works in public health and sustainable agriculture and is interested in how health can be improved through homesteading.

book review_good berry vs bad berry

5 thoughts on “Can you tell the difference between edible and poisonous berries?”

  1. This year, we planted 2 aronia bushes, an elderberry and 3 kinds of garden huckleberries. We also have multiple types of wild berries that grow on our property that I would love to be able to identify. Sounds like this book is just what I need!

  2. I love berry season! We have salmon berries, blackberries and huckleberries growing wild on our property but occasionally I come across something else that I am not familiar with and I would love to have a book to help identify! Thank you for the opportunity to win one!

  3. Hard to choose a favorite berry! Really enjoy the more common berries – strawberry, blueberry and red raspberry. But also have fond memories of picking and eating mulberrys when I was young.
    Would really enjoy reading this book and having a reference on hand for berry identification. Thank you for the opportunity to win this book!


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