More Than One Type of Bittersweet
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Mary Finn
Posted on: March 24, 2007

At the community college I am attending they list Celastrus scandens as bittersweet and then in your catalogue you list Solanum dulcamara as bittersweet. Would be interested in knowing the difference and which on is the one used in floral arrangments.

That’s the problem with common names. Sometimes the same common name is used to refer to dozens of different plants, and sometimes those plants have wildly different properties, and these two are a perfect example of how important it is to know what the differences are and what exactly you have in your garden. Solanum dulcamara and Celastrus scandens are both known as bittersweet, though the former is more precisely known as bittersweet nightshade, an important medicinal herb, while the latter is known as american bittersweet. The nightshades are well known to be sources of potent and potentially lethal alkaloids and they must be handled with respect, and bittersweet nightshade has a long histroy of use in herbal medicine; but these days it is only used by those who have the knowledge to use it safely. Bittersweet nightshade is a member of the Solanaceae family, the same family to which tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes belong. American bittersweet belongs to the Celastraceae, a very different family with minor or no medicinal use. This is species used for decorative use.

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