Red Baneberry

This summer, among the many delicious, ripe raspberries on Mt. Lemmon, I found these red berries.

Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra) berries

Not knowing what these berries were, I definitely didn't taste any of them. I later discovered that they belong to a Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra) and these lovely berries are actually poisonous. Generally, any plant with bane in it's name is worth avoiding.

Red Baneberries, like other plants in the Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae), contain ranunculin, an innocuous glycoside that is enzymatically broken down into a highly irritating toxin, protoanemonin, when any part of the plant damaged. Red Baneberry plants contain a great deal of this toxin, especially in their roots and attractive red or white berries. This plant is thought to contain other irritant compounds as well.

Chewing on the berries can result in burning mouth pain and blistering. If the berries are swallowed, they could cause painful gastroenteritis, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and even headache, dizziness, ventricular fibrillation and respiratory failure if larger amounts are consumed. Given their mouth-burning properties, anyone swallowing these berries must not have done much chewing first! Even getting the plant juices on your skin can result in contact dermatitis.

Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra) with unripe berries

Here in Arizona, Red Baneberries can be found in moist mountain canyons and along streams at elevations above 7000 feet (2134 m). This native perennial has white flowers and toothed, green leaves usually in groups of three. The green berries turn red or white when ripe. I have read that some birds will eat the berries with no ill effects, but I didn't observe any living creature eating these berries. With all of the nice, ripe raspberries around, I don't think that the nasty baneberries were in much demand.