Herb: Wolfberry

Latin name: Symphoricarpos occidentalis

Synonyms: Symphoricarpos heyeri

Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family)

Medicinal use of Wolfberry:

An infusion of the leaves has been used as a wash for weak and inflamed eyes. An infusion of the root has been used to cleanse the afterbirth and aid in convalescence.

Description of the plant:


180 cm
(6 feet)

to July

Habitat of the herb:

Bluffs, dry prairies and plains, mainly in the Rockies.

Edible parts of Wolfberry:

Fruit - raw or cooked. Insipid. They are best if cooked. A famine food, they are only used when all else fails. The fruit is about 8mm in diameter. See the notes at top of page regarding possible toxicity.

Other uses of the herb:

Plants have extensive root systems and are used to stabilize soils on banks and slopes. The branches can be made into brooms. Very tolerant of trimming, it can be grown as a medium to tall hedge.

Propagation of Wolfberry:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Stored seed requires 3 months warm then 5 months cold stratification. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood of the current year's growth, 15 - 25cm long preferably with a heel, in a sheltered bed outdoors in winter. High percentage. Division of suckers in winter. They can be planted out direct into their permanent positions.

Cultivation of the herb:

Bluffs, dry prairies and plains, mainly in the Rockies.

Known hazards of Symphoricarpos occidentalis:

No report of toxicity has been seen for this species but the fruit of many if not all members of this genus contains saponins. Although toxic, these substances are very poorly absorbed by the body and so tend to pass through without causing harm. They are also destroyed by thorough cooking. Saponins are found in many plants, including several that are often used for food, such as certain beans. It is advisable not to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins but it would take extremely large doses of many kilos of fruit from this plant in order to produce toxic symptoms. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.