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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - February 09, 2012

From: Madison, MS
Region: Southeast
Topic: Invasive Plants, Edible Plants, Vines
Title: Edibility of peppervine berries from Madison MS
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I am following up on a question I've posed to many well experienced foragers and naturalists regarding the pepper vine plant or Ampelopsis arbor. There are many conflicting stories regarding the edibility of this grape and it seems to stem from the amount of carbolic acid (some people say this is tartaric acid). I can eat a handful at most of these berries and have made a fine jelly from juice that has had the acid settled and removed by settlement in the refrigerator and straining through muslin. That being said, juicing the berries was extremely painful to my hands, much like fiberglass. I'm not sure how to proceed on this plant; it clearly has the characteristics of a native grape but I could use your expertise and advice. Thank you in advance.

ANSWER:

Since you have already obviously done research on Ampelopsis arborea (Peppervine), we're not sure we can add anything useful. We did find an Aggie Horticulture article (Texas A&M) on Peppervine. We also discovered, in our Native Plant Database, another plant with the common name "pepper vine," Clematis ligusticifolia (Western white clematis). From our webpage on that plant, we extracted this paragraph:

"This species’ traditional name, Pepper Vine, referred to the acrid, peppery taste of the stems and leaves, which Native Americans chewed as a remedy for colds and sore throats. It is said that the crushed roots were placed in the nostrils of tired horses to revive them. Caution is advised: The genus is known to have poisonous species."

Since you are referring to a grape-like fruit, we hope this is not the right plant; common names can be easily tripped over in plants.

Everything we found concerning edibility said it was a food liked by birds, and mammals would eat it, but preferred other food if they could get it. We also learned that it can be very invasive and absolutely crowd out other more desirable plants in the garden or woodlands.

Since, as we said, we don't have much to add, we will voice an opinion. The process is obviously tedious to extract juice from those berries, and you mentioned stinging and burning while handling it. Are you sure you want that attacking the lining of your stomach? Oh, and were you aware that another common name of this vine is "cow-itch vine?"

 

From the Image Gallery


Peppervine
Nekemias arborea

Peppervine
Nekemias arborea

Peppervine
Nekemias arborea

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