Herb: Black Bryony

Latin name: Tamus communis

Family: Dioscoreaceae (Yam Family)

Medicinal use of Black Bryony:

The root is antiecchymotic, diuretic, emetic, haemolytic and rubefacient. Use with caution, the plant is rich in saponins, has a very powerful cathartic affect and ranks as a dangerous irritant poison. It is not normally used internally, but the macerated root is applied externally as a poultice to bruises, rheumatic joints etc. This should not be done without expert advice since it can cause painful blisters. The root is used fresh or can be harvested in the autumn and dried for later use.

Description of the plant:

Perennial Climber

3.5 m
(11 feet)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Hedgerows, scrub, woodland edges and copses, avoiding acid soils.

Edible parts of Black Bryony:

Young shoots - cooked. A decidedly bitter flavour. An asparagus substitute, it is best if the water is changed once whilst cooking. See notes at top of the page regarding possible toxicity.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - sow in a cold frame in early spring or as soon as the seed is ripe in the autumn. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots once they are large enough to handle, and plant out in the summer or in late spring of the following year.

Cultivation of Black Bryony:

Hedgerows, scrub, woodland edges and copses, avoiding acid soils.

Known hazards of Tamus communis:

The whole plant is poisonous due to its saponin content. Although toxic, saponins are very poorly absorbed by the body and so tend to pass through without causing harm. They are also broken down 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. 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. The toxic effect of this plant is not caused by saponins, but by calcium oxalate crystals which are found mainly in the fruit.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.