Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

European Bittersweet - Solanum dulcamara var. dulcamara


"Solanum dulcamara is a PERENNIAL CLIMBER growing to 2.5 m (8ft) by 2.5 m (8ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 4. It is in flower from Jun to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure."[PFAF]


Origin Status: Exotic [E-flora]
General: Perennial vine from a rhizome; stems shrubby below, 0.1-3 m long. [IFBC-E-flora]
Leaves: Basal leaves lacking; stem leaves widely egg-shaped, sometimes with basal lobes, heart-shaped at the base, 2.5-8 cm long, 1.5-5 cm wide.[IFBC-E-flora]
Flowers: Inflorescence of terminal, umbrella-shaped clusters of flowers on stalks 1.5-4 cm long; corollas blue or violet, lobed, the lobes 5-9 mm long but soon bent back; calyces 3-4 mm long; anthers yellow. [IFBC-E-flora]
Fruits: Berries, globe- to egg-shaped, bright red, 8-11 mm wide; seeds 2-3 mm long. [IFBC-E-flora]
Habitat & Range: Moist to mesic waste places in the lowland and steppe zones; common in SW BC (lower Fraser Valley) infrequent in SC and SE BC; introduced from Eurasia. [IFBC-E-flora] Hedgerows and woody areas, avoiding acid soils[17]. Also found on moist banks by the edges of swamps[232]. Europe, including Britain, south and east from Norway to N. Africa and temperate Asia.[PFAF]


Other Uses

Insecticide: "Tomatine, solasonine and solamargine have all demonstrated insecticidal properties.16" [Cheryll_Williams]

Medicinal Uses

"Bittersweet is a poisonous plant that has a long history of use in the treatment of skin diseases, warts, tumours, felons etc[238]. It should be used with caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner, this is a poisonous plant that, in excess, paralyzes the central nervous system, slows the heart and respiration, and lowers temperature, causing vertigo, delirium, convulsions and death[21, 238]. See also the notes above on toxicity."[PFAF] "Solanum dulcamara... was used as a folk medicine in Europe, China, and Japan (Ehmke and Eilert 1993)." [Bajaj MAPS 10]

Further Medicinal Use

Extractum Dulcamarae Fluidum, Fluid Extract of Dulcamara. Dose, from half to one dram.
Specific Medicine Dulcamara' "Dose, from one-half to ten minims. Potatoes and tomatoes belong to this family, and although the fruit is edible, the vines are usually poisonous."
Solanine may be obtained from the new sprouts of the ordinary potato.[Ellingwood]

Physiological Action

"This agent is a powerful poison to all living protoplasm. It coagulates the blood and destroys the integrity of the corpuscles."
"Injected into the veins it causes dyspnea, thrombosis in the vessels and arrest of respiration. Toxic doses produce tremors, muscular contractions, central paralysis, collapse, coma, a violent fall of the temperature and death."
"It is a narcotic, and in toxic doses causes nausea, vomiting, faintness, pain in the joints, numbness of the limbs, dryness of the mouth, convulsive movements, a small hard pulse, paralysis of the tongue, a purplish color of the face and hands, twitching of the eyelids and lips, trembling of the limbs, erythematous eruption, suppression of venereal desire, though recovery has followed after very large doses. Clarus administered six grains of solanine, which produced general cephalic distress, with occipital pain, increase of the frequency and loss of the force of the pulse, followed after some hours by sudden vomiting, diarrhea, great weakness, and marked dyspnea." [Ellingwood]


"Dulcamara is a remedy for all conditions resulting from suppression of secretion, from exposure to cold and dampness. It will restore normal excretion and secretion."
"In acute coryza, in bronchial and nasal catarrh, in lung congestion and bronchial cough, with pain in the chest, all from cold, in bronchial asthma, and in acute bronchitis it is an excellent auxiliary remedy. In eruptive fevers it assists in determining the eruption to the surface, especially if there is retrocession. It has a direct action upon the skin also, being given in pustular eczemas and vesicular disorders quite freely. It has produced good results in psoriasis, pityriasis, lepra, and other scaly skin disorders. It acts as an alterative in such cases, and will influence the skin derangements of scrofula and syphilis to a certain extent. It is available in the various skin disorders of childhood from disordered blood and deranged stomach."
"It is an excellent alterative, if administered with care, and is therefore valuable in syphilis, scrofula, and other blood disorders. In acute and chronic rheumatism from exposure to dampness and cold, and in gout, it has been advantageously used."
"Nervous irritation with depression, with hyperesthesia of the organs, and pruritus pudendi are relieved by it. It may be used in spermatorrhea with undue excitement, priapism, nymphomania, and satyriasis. It should be given first in small doses, increased to full amount if necessary. In suppression of the menses with headache and nausea and acute ovarian congestion, it will work well."
"It is advised in the treatment of catarrh of the bladder, and as a stimulant to the urinary secretion." [Ellingwood]

Activities (Bittersweet) [HMH Duke]

  • Alterative (f; CRC; DEP; KAB);
  • Analgesic (1; CRC; PH2);
  • Anaphrodisiac (f; CRC);
  • Anticholinergic (1; KOM; PH2);
  • Antidote (f; CRC);
  • Antiinflammatory (1; KOM);
  • Antipyretic (f; CRC);
  • Antisarcomic (f; CRC);
  • Antiseptic (2; KOM);
  • Antiviral (1; PH2);
  • Astringent (2; KOM);
  • Cardiotonic (1; CRC; PH2);
  • Cytotoxic (1; PH2);
  • Depurative (f; CRC);
  • Diaphoretic (f; CRC; FAD);
  • Diuretic (f; CRC; DEP; FAD; MAD);
  • Emetic (f; CRC);
  • Expectorant (1; CRC; PH2);
  • Hypnotic (f; CRC);
  • Immunostimulant (f; PH2);
  • Laxative (f; CRC);
  • Mucoirritant (2; KOM);
  • Narcotic (1; CRC; DEP; FAD);
  • Pectoral (f; PH2);
  • Phagocytotic (1; PH2);
  • Poison (f; CRC);
  • Resolvent (f; CRC);
  • Secretagogue (f; KAB);
  • Sedative (f; CRC);
  • Stimulant (f; CRC);
  • Tonic (f; CRC).

Selected Indications (Bittersweet) [HMH Duke]

  • Acne (2; MAD; PHR; PH2); Eczema (2; CRC; KOM; PHR; PH2); Dermatosis (1; CRC; FAD; PH2);
  • Angina (f; CRC; MAD);
  • Arthrosis (f; CRC; PH2);
  • Asthma (f; CRC; PH2);
  • Bleeding (f; CRC; PH2);
  • Bronchosis (f; CRC; FAD);
  • Cancer (1; FNF; JLH); Cancer, breast (1; FNF; JLH); Cancer, eye (1; FNF; JLH); Cancer, face (1; FNF; JLH); Tumor (1; CRC; FAD);
  • Cystosis (f; CRC; MAD);
  • Dysmenorrhea (f; CRC; MAD);
  • Enterosis (f; CRC; DEM; PH2);
  • Felon (f; CRC; JLH);
  • Fever (f; CRC; DEM; FAD; KAB);
  • Furuncle (2; PHR; PH2);
  • Gastrosis (f; CRC; DEM; PH2);
  • Gout (f; FAD; MAD);
  • Herpes (1; HH2; PH2);
  • Inflammation (1; KOM; PH2);
  • Itch (f; CRC; MAD);
  • Jaundice (f; CRC; MAD);
  • Leprosy (f; CRC; DEP; KAB);
  • Malaria (f; CRC);
  • Myelosis (f; CRC; MAD);
  • Nausea (f; DEM; HH2);
  • Neuralgia (f; CRC; MAD);
  • Pain (1; CRC; PH2);
  • Pertussis (f; CRC; FAD);
  • Rheumatism (f; CRC; FAD; PH2);
  • Scabies (f; MAD);
  • Scrofula (f; CRC; MAD);
  • Stammering (f; CRC);
  • Tenesmus (f; CRC);
  • Typhoid (f; CRC);
  • VD (f; KAB); Syphilis (f; KAB);
  • Virus (1; HH2; PH2);
  • Wart (1; CRC; PHR; PH2);
  • Water Retention (f; CRC; DEP; FAD;MAD)
Dosages (Bittersweet)
  • 1–3 g stem/day (KOM);
  • 0.5–2 g powdered stem several ×/day (MAD);
  • 0.6–1.2 g extract/day (MAD);
  • 1–2 g drug/250 ml water (PH2);
  • 1–3 g/day (PH2).
  • "The recommended oral dose is 1-3 g of the dried herb daily."[Schulz RP]
  • (Bittersweet Twigs)STEMS. Tincture [Fresh Stems 1:2, Dry Stems, 1:5, 60% alcohol] 10-20 drops. This is best used in formulas. USE WITH MODERATION.[Moore(1995)]

"...its function in folk medicine in that particular direction appears to have been restricted to serving as a sedative to counter sleeplessness, as implied by one of its Gaelic names in Ireland[50] (and actually recorded as a use from Cavan[51]). In common with periwinkles (Vinca), the plant has a mildly narcotic property, and at one time in Cumberland schoolboys kept a stock of the twigs in their pockets and copied the tobacco chewing of their elders.[52] The main use of this common plant, though, was for fingers inflamed by the cold.... In Essex,[54] Warwickshire[55] and Oxfordshire[56] the juice was mixed with lard to produce an ointment valued for chilblains—an allied complaint. "...boiled in a pint of beer, the plant has also enjoyed a reputation there as a strengthening tonic.[59]" [MPFT]


"Solanum duicamara L. (Solanaceae) is used traditionally as an anti-inflammatory agent against rheumatic diseases and chronic diseases of the skin. The furostanol and spirosolanol glycosides are discussed as active constituents (1). With regard to the aglycone, the occurrence of three chemotypes has been reported..." [SSSD]

"The stems, leaves, and berries (of S. dulcamara) contain the alkaloid solanine. The stems contain, as well, the glucoside dulcamarin which gives the plant its peculiar bitter-sweet taste, and which has not yet been fully investigated. The degree of toxicity of the plant has not been determined; no doubt it varies under certain conditions. Chesnut says, ''Besides solanin (0.3 per cent) this plant contains another less poisonous compound, dulcamarin . . . Neither of the compounds is abundant. The berry, though its taste is not remarkably disagreeable, is somewhat poisonous, and it has been shown that an extract of the leaves is moderately so. The plant has nevertheless caused some ill effect.'' Schimpfky reports that the berries have been used to poison dogs, and the juice of the fruit acts as 9, poison to rabbits.[FPP]two compounds are reported for the first time." [SSSD]

a-Soladulcine [38] b-Soladulcine [38] [Azimova Alkaloids][ACBP12]


Chemical / Part / Lo ppm / Hi ppm [DukePhyto]
  • 2,4-METHYLENE-CHOLESTEROL Tissue Culture
  • 3,5-TOMATIDIENE Shoot
  • ATROPINE Seed [DukePhyt][MPUC Trivedi]
  • CYCLOARTENOL Tissue Culture
  • D-GLUCOSE Plant
  • D-XYLOSE Plant
  • L-RHAMNOSE Plant
  • LYCOPENE Fruit

"Due to its traditional use in European and other countries as a medicinal plant this species is one of the best-studied of the genus..." [Eckart_Eich]

Yamogenin "The yamogenin content of fruits of S. dulcamara increased during ripening (in red ripe berries up to 0.75% dry weight). Its content in leaves of flowering and fruiting plants was higher than the content of tomatidenol. However, the opposite was observed in old stems (Willuhn and Koethe 1981)." [Eckart_Eich]

"Bittersweet... is characterized by its steroidal alkaloids and glycosides such as solanine and soladulcidine (58). Whereas they are abundant in green tissue, they are almost absent from red, ripe fruits. Because steroidal alkaloids interact with membrane cholesterol (in the same way as saponins), these alkaloids are cytotoxic and harmful when ingested in higher concentrations." [Roberts Alk]

"Analysis of unripe berries from S. dulcamara... demonstrated the presence of the glycoalkaloid aglycones, solasodine... and diosgenin.... The latter compound is the steroidal aglycone of the saponin, dioscin. Tropane alkaloids (e.g., atropine, hyoscyamine) were not detected in the berries. Other glycoalkaloids include a- , B- , y- , and d- solamarine, soladulcidine, tomatine, and tomatidenol." [Barceloux MTNS]

"...roots contained the additional aglycone tomatidine and/or 15a-hydroxylated congeners of all four aglycones mentioned. Even 15B-hydroxy-soladulcidine and -solasodine were detected...". [Eckart_Eich] Roots additionally contain the aglycones tomatidine and/or 15a-hydroxylated derivatives of solasodine, soladulcidine, tomatidenol, and tomatidine (Ronsch and Schreiber 1966; Willuhn and Kun-Anake 1970). The steroidal alkaloids are always accompanied by the biosynthetically closely related neutral sapogenins diosgenin, tigogenin, and yamogenin, which are nitrogen-free oxygenanalogous compounds.[Bajaj MAP4]

"Two further soladulcidine-based glycoalkaloids, soladulcines A (B-chacotrioside) and B (B-lycotetraoside), were isolated and structurally elucidated from the aerial parts of this species in Japan (Lee et al. 1994)." [Eckart_Eich]

"[The stems of bittersweet] contain glycoalkaloids of solasodine, soladulcidine and 5,6-dehydrotomatidine but also spirostanol glycosides and furostanol glycosides of proto-yamogenin.... The latter are responsible for the bitter taste of the drug (Steinegger and Hansel, 1988)." [Hostettmann Saponins]

"Solanum dulcamara contains steroid alkaloid glycosides (0.07 to 0.4%). The alkaloid spectrum differs widely with the variety." [HPEP][PDR] Mixed varieties also occur. [PDR]

The difference in alkaloid composition is a genetically fixed character of the plant and this difference is restricted to the chlorophyllous vegetative organs. [Bajaj MAP4]

The geographical distribution of the chemovarieties indicates a spatial separation:

  1. "...the tomatidenol-producing taxa are found in the humid Atlantic climate of western Europe,..." [Bajaj MAP4]
  2. "...the soladulcidine type occurs in drier continental climates (Sander 1963; Mathe and Mathe 1978)." [Bajaj MAP4]
  3. Plants of the solasodine variety are comparatively rare. Along the boundary of the areals, populations of S. dulcamara exist which contain all three steroidal alkaloids (Willuhn 1966). [Bajaj MAP4]

Commercial Viability

"The importance of Solanum dulcamara as a source of steroidal alkaloids for the production of steroid hormones is limited. Only the tomatidenol and solasodine varieties may be of some interest; in general, the yield will not compare to the one obtainable with some other Solanum species..." [Bajaj MAP4]

"Therefore for commercial production of solasodine from S.m., the fruits must be picked as their color is in transition between green to yellow. According to Tarigan (1980), one 6-month-old s.m. plant cultivated in Lembang (West Java, 1200m above sea level) could produce ca. 4kg fruits, so about 46-67kg solasodine could be produced from 1ha of these plants in 6 months. This is much higher compared to tomatidenol (C-22 epimer of solasodine) production from 1ha of Solanum dulcamara plants, which produced only ca. 15-45 kg of the steroidal alkaloid (Ehmke and Eilert 1993). The yield large-scale extraction of solasodine from 1ha of S.m. plants in Puerto Rico was 24.1 kg. This yield compares favorably with the other Solanum spp. (aviculare, auriculatum, laciniatum, marginatum) that were evaluated in other plantations (Telek et al. 1977)" [Bajaj MAPS 10]


"In ancient Greece, a "Strychnos hypnoticon" was recognized, which had red berries; it is suggested that this plant was S. dulcamara. Dioscorides considered the fruits as diuretic, the bark as sleep-inducing, and unripe fruits as causing mental disturbance. The diuretic properties are also relevant today: Stipites dulcamarae are used in phytotherapy to treat metabolic disorders accompanied by hindered diuresis." [Roberts Alk]

"Dulcamara possesses feeble narcotic properties, with tlie power of increasing the secretions, particularly those of the kidneys and skin. George B. Wood observed, when the system was under its influence, a dark purplish color of the face and hands, and [at] same time considerable languor of the circulation. In overdoses it produces nausea, vomiting, faintness, vertigo, and convulsive muscular movements. (LondonMed. Gaz., 1850.)"
"Anaphrodisiac properties have been attributed to dulcamara, and it has also been employed with alleged benefit in chronic rheumatism. But its chief use has been in thetreatment of scaly cutaneous eruptions, such as lepra, psoriasis, and pityriasis. Afluidextract is official in the N. F. Dulcamara may be given in doses of irom thirty grains to a drachm. (2-3.9 Gm.)" [Remington USD20]

"All parts of the plant are alterative, anodyne, depurative, mildly diuretic, emetic, expectorant, hepatic, mildly narcotic and purgative[4, 7, 9, 13, 21, 165]."[PFAF]

"The main active principles are the steroid alkaloid glycosides whose resorption is probably promoted by the saponins. They stimulate phagocytosis, are hemolytic, cytotoxic, antiviral, anticholinergic and have local anaesthetic properties. Solasodin has a cortisone-like effect. A desensitizing and cardiotonic effect has been observed in clinical trials with patients suffering from rheumatic polyarthritis. Its use as an expectorant may be due to the saponin content."[PDR]

Antifungal: In an early study tigogenin-based as well as yamogenin-based saponins extracted from Solanum dulcamara showed remarkable inhibitory effects toward a few predominantly plant pathogenic fungi, e.g., Piricularia oryzae Cav., Alternaria solani (Ell. & Mart.) Jones & Grout (Wolters 1968).[Eckart_Eich]

"Bittersweet possesses the same energetic properties as mandrake, though in milder form it is much milder than many nightshade plants and is a reliable herb when used with intelligent intention. It is toxic in large doses. Diuretic, antirheumatic, expectorant, narcotic, sedative. Used internally to increase urine flow, to relieve rheumatic and arthritic inflammations, and as a relaxing sedative. It is a beautiful plant and wonderful herb." [Buhner SHHB]


"Extracts obtained from Solanum spp. have been used to treat cancer for centuries (Cham et al. 1987) and are still used, e.g., in India as well as in Chinese medicine from S. dulcamara (Ehmke and Eilert 1993 and references therein). An early scientific report on a specific glycoalkaloid isolated from this species, B-solamarine, which proved a tumor-inhibiting activity (Sarcoma 180, mice) was published by Kupchan et al. (1965a). Many reports are available on solamargine and solasonine, e.g., Saijo et al. (1982), Ono et al. (2006a)." [Eckart_Eich]


Gender: Masculine
Planet: Mercury
Element: Air
Powers: Protection, Healing
Magical Uses: "Some bittersweet placed beneath the pillow will help you in forgetting a past love. The bittersweet is also used to protect against and to remove evil from both humans and animals, by tying a small piece of the herb somewhere on the body. Tied to the neck, bittersweet cures vertigo or dizziness of the head, according to Culpeper." [EMH Cunningham]


"An easily grown plant, it succeeds in most soils[1, 202]. Prefers a damp shady position and a neutral to alkaline soil[10, 238]. Succeeds in full sun to light shade[202]. If being grown for its medicinal uses, the plant is best placed in a dry and exposed position[4]. Hardy to at least -15°c[202]. Special Features:Attractive foliage, Not North American native, Invasive, Naturalizing, All or parts of this plant are poisonous."[PFAF]

Phytoremediation: "Non-naccumulator. This species did not accumulate significant concentrations of pesticides in plant tissues despite growing in the most contaminated areas of the hot spots. This species may have practical value for phytostabilization or phytodegradation technologies that seek to stabilize or enhance degradation of organochlorine pesticides in soil."[OPPPS]


"Seed - sow spring in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out into their permanent positions in the summer. If you have sufficient seed then it can be sown outdoors in situ in the spring. Division in spring." [PFAF]


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