Herb: Climbing Bittersweet

Latin name: Celastrus scandens

Family: Celastraceae (Bittersweet Family)

Medicinal use of Climbing Bittersweet:

Climbing bittersweet was employed medicinally by a number of native North American Indian tribes, though it is scarcely used in modern herbalism. The root is diaphoretic, diuretic and emetic. It is a folk remedy for chronic liver and skin ailments (including skin cancer), rheumatism, leucorrhoea, dysentery and suppressed menses. A strong compound infusion, usually combined with raspberry leaf tea, has been used to reduce the pain of childbirth. A poultice of the boiled root has been used to treat obstinate sores, skin eruptions etc. Externally, the bark is used as an ointment on burns, scrapes and skin eruptions. Extracts of the bark are thought to be cardioactive. Many plants in this genus contain compounds of interest for their antitumour activity.

Description of the plant:


8 m
(26 feet)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Rich soils in dense moist thickets, woods and along river banks.

Edible parts of Climbing Bittersweet:

Bark and twigs - they must be cooked. The thickish bark is sweet and palatable after boiling. Another report says that it is the inner bark that is used, and that it is a starvation food, only used when other foods are in short supply. Some caution is advised in the use of this plant since there are suggestions of toxicity.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - gather when ripe, store in dry sand and sow February in a warm greenhouse. Three months cold stratification leads to a higher germination rate. Remove the flesh of the fruit since this inhibits germination. Germination rates are usually good. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Layering in August of the current seasons growth. Takes 12 months. Root cuttings, 6mm thick 25mm long in December. Plant horizontally in pots in a frame.

Cultivation of Climbing Bittersweet:

Rich soils in dense moist thickets, woods and along river banks.

Known hazards of Celastrus scandens:

The fruit is poisonous. All parts of the plant are potentially toxic.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.