Bryonia dioica M.Bieb.
Bryonia monoeca E.H.L.Krause
Bryonia nigra Gilib.
Bryonia vulgaris Gueldenst. ex Ledeb.
Common Name: White Bryony
Bryonia alba is a herbaceous, perennial, climbing plant producing branching stems up to 4 metres long from a tuberous rootstock.The stems scramble over the ground, climbing into the surrounding vegetation where they attach themselves by means of tendrils[
The plant has been used in the past as a medicine, and possibly also as a food, though both these uses should be viewed with some caution. The plant is also sometimes encouraged as an ornamental in hedgerows.
All parts of the plant, and especially the root, are poisonous[
Taken orally, the root can cause dizziness, vomiting, convulsions, colic, bloody diarrhoea, abortion, nervous excitement, and kidney damage. Large doses can cause anuria, collapse, spasms, paralysis, and death.
Applied topically, skin contact with fresh root may cause irritation.
Ingestion of 15 berries is likely to be fatal to a child., whilst ingestion of 40 berries is likely to be fatal for adults
Central Europe - Poland and Germany east to Ukraine and Greece; E. Asia - Caucasus and Turkey to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan
Vineyards and woods[
]. Shrubby formations, forest edges, ravines, as a weed in orchards[
]. Found especially in dry soils, preferring rocky slopes in the mountainous areas, dry riverbeds or even sand dunes[
|Cultivation Status||Ornamental, Wild
A rapid grower, it is of easy cultivation succeeding in most soils that are well drained[
], avoiding acid soils in the wild[
]. Established plants are very drought tolerant, with a large tuber that helps to store water[
Plants can be easily encouraged by scattering ripe seed at the base of hedgerows[
Plants in the north of their range are monoecious, but those growing in the south are dioecious[
]. Where necessary, male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
One report says that the young shoots are edible[
], though caution is advised[
]. See the notes above on toxicity.
Bryonia alba is little used in modern herbalism, though there is significant research interest into the biologically active compounds it contains - paricularly cucurbitacins, but also flavonoids, sterols, lectins, amino acids, lipids and trihydroxyoctadecadienoic acids[
Cucurbitacins are found in important amounts in the roots and provide cytotoxic effects or even antitumor activities. The most cytotoxic cucurbitacins seem to be cucurbitacin B, D, E and I, but the others present nevertheless moderate activity[
The trihydroxyoctadecadienoic acids in the roots exhibit hypoglycaemic activity, and can even correct major abnormalities typical in severe diabetes mellitus. Other studies state that the same compounds may exhibit preventive atherogenic or antiatherosclerotic activities[
Studies have also shown that the root extract has hepatoprotective activity; and that it also exerts a protective activity for human cells against endogenous oxidative DNA damage[
The roots can also increase nitric oxide levels in humans, which can be responsible for the adaptation of the human organism to heavy physical exercise, but is also responsible for numerous inflammatory processes[
The roots are also widely known for their adaptogen activity, which some sources associate to the content of cucurbitacins (especially cucurbitacin R diglucoside), which enhance the sensitivity level to stress, due to the effects of eicosanoids and corticosteroid[
]. Adaptogens are substances that have a generally positive effect upon various bodily systems, bringing about a general improvement in human health. They are meant to be free from negative side-effects, which we would have thought would exclude this species from being labelled an adaptogen[
The root is cathartic, hydrogogue, irritant, pectoral and purgative[
]. It has been used in the treatment of dropsy[
The root is harvested in the autumn and can be used either fresh or dried[
The root should be used with great caution, see notes above on toxicity.
The fresh root, gathered before the plant comes into flower, is made into a homeopathic remedy[
]. This is used in the treatment of a wide range of complaints[
]. It is said to be one of the best diuretics and an excellent remedy for gravel as well as all other obstructions and disorders of the urinary passage[
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Sow stored seed in late winter in a cold frame. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter, planting them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts.
Division in early spring.