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Common Name: Black Bryony
Tamus communis is a Perennial Climber up to 3.50 metres tall.
It has edible and medicinal uses.
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[
Europe, south and east from Britain and Belgium to N. Africa, Hungary, E. Mediterranean, W. Asia.
Hedgerows, scrub, woodland edges and copses, avoiding acid soils[
Requires a moist well-drained fertile soil[
A climbing plant, the weak stems support themselves by twining around other plants and are capable of growing quite high up into shrubs and trees[
A dioecious species - both male and female forms must be grown if fruit and seed are required.
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.
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[
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.