I cannot remember how many times as a child my parents warned me of the perils of eating “poison berries” off bushes in our yard. Pretty much every berry in our yard was “poisonous”, according to my mom: crimson holly berries, shiny red magnolia seeds, waxy nandina berries…and she was mostly right.
I mean, this was in the late 1970s, early 1980s when there was no Google for my mom to instantly find out which of those tempting, jewel-colored berries were safe to touch and/or eat, so my brother and I pretty much steered clear of them. Well, except to pick them and use them as ammo to throw at each other.
Those gorgeous, enticing purply-blue berries on the mahonia bushes that we thought were deadly are actually edible. I just instantly and inadvertently found out via a Google search to check my spelling of “mahonia” that you can make a great jelly from those berries. I’m still skeptical though. Mom drilled that “poison” thing into our heads. I do that to my boys too — better safe than sorry (for example: they love to check out mushrooms, and I know so little about which wild ones are edible I steer them clear except to look at them).
We have several mahonias in our yard. They are quite invasive and non-native to boot, but they were here before we moved in so I live with them and actually enjoy their punchy fragrant yellow flowers in the early spring. Turns out that bees LOVE them too, so they further find favor in my gardening eyes. And, as the daffodils and crocuses (croci??) are popping out of the ground in late January and early February with this unseasonably warm weather, so follow the mahonia blooms — and a bee too!
February 4, 2012 at 8:27 pm
I just identified my first mahonia in the woods this winter. But the sources I read said nothing about its berries’ being edible. I’m gonna have to check that out! Thanks for the lead.