Lonicera alba (L.) Druce
Symphoricarpos pauciflorus (J.W.Robbins) Britton
Symphoricarpos racemosus laevigatus Fernald
Symphoricarpos rivularis Suksd.
Vaccinium album L.
Xylosteon album (L.) Moldenke
Common Name: Snowberry
Symphoricarpos albus is a densely-branched, deciduous shrub that can grow 90 - 180cm tall, occasionally to 300cm. The plant grows from a rhizomatous rootstock and often spreads to form dense thickets[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food, medicine and source of materials. It is used in soil stabilization and restoration projects and is often grown as an ornamental, where it can be used as a hedge.
The fruit contains saponins.
Although poisonous, saponins also have a range of medicinal applications and many saponin-rich plants are used in herbalism (particularly as emetics, expectorants and febrifuges) or as sources of raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. Saponins are also found in a number of common foods, such as many beans.
Saponins have a quite bitter flavour and are in general poorly absorbed by the human body, so most pass through without harm. They can be removed by carefully leaching in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of raw foods that contain saponins.
Saponins are much more toxic to many cold-blooded 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 and make them easy to catch[
N. America - Alaska to Quebec, south to California, Nebraska, Ohio and Pennsylvania
Banks and flats in canyons and near streams; at elevations below 1,200 metres in California[
|Other Uses Rating
A very hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to about -40°c[
Tolerates most soils and conditions, including poor soils and amongst the roots and under the drip of trees[
]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a well-drained soil[
]. Dislikes strongly acid soils, or soils derived from granite, but does well on limestone soils[
]. Somewhat tolerant of saline soils[
]. Does well in sun or moderate shade[
]. Tolerates urban pollution and maritime exposure[
A very ornamental but invasive plant, spreading by means of suckers[
The var laevigatus (syn Symphoricarpos rivularis laeviatus) is a larger, more vigorous form with larger fruits[
The flowers are much visited by bees and the fruit is very attractive to wild life[
There are some named varieties, developed for their ornamental value[
]. 'Constance Spry' bears a copious crop of large round berries.
Plants can be top-killed by fire, but usually resprout freely from the rhizomes[
Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[
Fruit - raw or cooked[
]. The fruit was eaten fresh but was not favoured by Native Americans, who also dried it for winter use[
]. An insipid flavour, it is best if cooked[
]. The fruit is rather boring[
]. The fruit is about 15mm in diameter[
]. See the notes at top of page regarding possible toxicity.
Snowberry was commonly employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who valued it especially for the saponins it contains. These saponins can be toxic, but when applied externally they have a gentle cleansing and healing effect upon the skin, killing body parasites and helping in the healing of wounds. The native Americans used it to treat a variety of complaints but especially as an external wash on the skin[
]. The plant is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism.
Any internal use of this plant should be carried out with care, and preferably under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. See the notes above on toxicity.
The whole plant is disinfectant, diuretic, febrifuge and laxative[
]. An infusion of the whole plant has been drunk and also applied externally in the treatment of skin rashes[
An infusion of the stems has been drunk to treat stomach problems and menstrual disorders[
A decoction of the leaves has been used in the treatment of colds[
]. A poultice of the chewed leaves has been applied, or an infusion of the leaves has been used as a wash, in the treatment of external injuries[
A weak solution of the stems and leaves has been used as a wash for children whilst a stronger solution is applied to sores[
The fruit has been eaten, or used as an infusion, in the treatment of diarrhoea[
]. An infusion of the fruit has been used as an eye wash for sore eyes[
].The berries have been rubbed on the skin as a treatment for burns, rashes, itches and sores[
]. The berries have also been rubbed on warts in order to get rid of them - this treatment needs to be carried out at least three times a day for a period of a few weeks[
A poultice of the crushed leaves, fruit and bark has been used in the treatment of burns, sores, cuts, chapped and injured skin[
An infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of fevers (including childhood fevers), stomach aches and colds[
]. A decoction of the root bark has been used in the treatment of venereal disease and to restore the flow of urine[
]. An infusion of the root has been used as an eyewash for sore eyes[
A decoction of the roots and stems has been used in the treatment of the inability to urinate, venereal disease, tuberculosis and the fevers associated with teething sickness[
Plants have extensive root systems and can be used to stabilize soils on banks and slopes[
Common snowberry has large ecological amplitude. Because of this amplitude, it has been widely used in the rehabilitation of disturbed sites such as mine spoil tips, though it is not recommended for use on sites that have been "extremely" disturbed[
Very tolerant of trimming, it can be grown as a medium to tall hedge[
]. Although deciduous, its stems and twigs are dense enough to make an effective screen even in winter[
]. Its main drawback as a hedge is its propensity to sucker[
The branches can be tied together and used as a broom[
The berries contain saponins and have been used as a hair wash[
A mild decoction of the wood has been used as a cleansing wash for babies[
The crushed berries have been rubbed into the armpits as an antiperspirant[
Arrowshafts and pipestems have been made from the stems[
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, mid summer in a frame[
Cuttings of mature wood, 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 straight into their permanent positions.