Early Winter Plant Walk: Dried Buckbrush Berries

I see these when I’m out walking the prairies on snowless, early winter days — one of the few spots of color in a winter landscape. In the spring and summer, the plant’s leathery blue-green leaves, and delicate pinkish-white flowers are a different kind of beauty. This is one of the last summer flowers to turn into a berry — long after the others have dried up or been eaten by the birds.

Buckbrush is uŋšúŋgnasapi hú or zuzéča tȟawóte in Lakȟól’iyapi, and Symphoricarpos occidentalis in Latin.

(A note on names: there are at least 4 different plants called zuzéča tȟawóte [“snake food”] in Lakȟól’iyapi. And several more called”buckbrush” in English. Another English name is “Western Snowberry” — but there seem to be countless plants called “snowberry” in English! So, the other names — uŋšúŋgnasapi hú and Symphoricarpos occidentalis — are a safer bet.)

While these berries are not poisonous, I don’t think they taste very good. I don’t know of anybody who harvests or eats them. Best to leave them for the birds.

This is a common prairie plant, but it is not one that I have worked with medicinally. I have heard from several sources (including Linda Black Elk) that an infusion of the leaves can be used as an eye wash — but I am always hesitant to pass along advice have not tried it myself.

So for now at least, my relationship with this plant doesn’t involve any harvesting. I just enjoy the late-summer blooms and winter berries, which are otherwise rare in the landscape.

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