Beautyberry: Jelly on a Roll

by Green Deane

in Antioxidants, Edible Raw, Fruits/Berries, Miscellaneous, Plants, Recipes, Trees/Shrubs

American Beautyberries cluster around the stem

Beautyberry: Callicarpa Americana

The Beautyberry is squirrel’s version of take out.

Squirrels will often break off a branch a foot or two long and carry it to an oak tree penthouse to enjoy.  Mockingbirds and other birds are also exceptionally fond of the Beauty Berry. Humans are not as enthusiastic.

“Insipid” is the word usually used to describe its gustatory qualities.  The truth is the berries of the Beauty Berry, or Beautyberry  (Callicarpa americana, (kar-lee-KAR-pa a-mair-ee-KAY-na) while an attractive magenta, are mealy and almost flavorless. Their only immediate pallet character is a little texture from a tiny seed.  But, this is not to say the Beautyberry– also called the Beautybush — is worthless to man nor beast. While this writer knows of no nutritional analysis of the Beautyberry, it might have similar antioxidant and vitamin properties as other colored, edible fruit. Many web sites warn not to eat the berries, and some call them poisonous. They are not poisonous but I suppose if one is going to make a mistake it is better to say something is poisonous when it is not than edible when it is poisonous. And for the record, worldwide there are about 140 different species of Callicarpa. The leaves of this one, incidentally, make an excellent fish poison for stunning them.

Berries ready to be made into jelly

Blooming pink in spring and fall, the Beautyberry has fruit clustered along the stem. The berries are slightly astringent and best eaten raw only a few at a time. Where Beautyberries excels is in making jelly. Beautyberry jelly is exceptionally good.  (See recipe below.) Perhaps drying or cooking eliminates any astringency. I make Beautyberry jelly nearly every weekend it is in season as well as Pyracantha jelly (see my blog Firethorn and Santa Claus.)

Dr. Julia Morton, a famed research professor of biology at the University of Miami said this about the Beauty Berry in her book ‘Wild Plants for Survival in South Florida:”  “The rank odor of the plant makes nibbling of [berry] bunches on the stem unpleasant.”

Her point was well taken: There are three chemicals in the leaves scientists are trying to replicate for mosquito repellent. They may be as effective as DEET, according to researchers with the USDA. The chemicals, particularly one called callicarpenal, showed significant bite-deterring activity against the yellow-fever mosquito and the mosquito that spreads malaria. Callicarpenal and other compounds isolated from the plant also repelled fire ants and ticks.

Native Indians had many uses for the Beautyberry, among them: A decoction of the root bark as a diuretic; the leaves for dropsy; a tea from the roots for dysentery and stomach aches; A tea made from the roots and berries for colic; and, the leaves and roots in sweat baths for the treatment of malaria, rheumatism and fevers. This author can only speak to the use of berries in jelly, and leaves as an external mosquito repellent.  However, a study published 6 Feb 2007 Journal of Natural Products suggests the C. Americana has anti-cancer potential.

The Japanese Beautyberry’s fruit is on stems away from the main stem.

A fairly common Beautyberry that is an ornamental is the Callicarpa japonica. It is easy to identify from the American Beautyberry because its fruit are on long stems away form the main branch. American Beautyberries wrap around the main stem. More so, the C. japonica is long banched, skinny and skinny leafed, weeping, the C. americana is not. While there are no reports of edibility of the C. japonica’s berries that I know of (in English) the leaves are dried and used to make a tea. I do know of one person, however, who tells me she makes jelly out of C. japonica berries. There are also a few other Asian Callicarpas that have edible or medicinal parts. Callicarpa dichotoma berries are too bitter to consume.

The Beautyberry is a cousin of the smelly Lantana and the Oaxaca Lemon Verbena, which I also have in my yard. I got the Oaxaca from a Greek friend of mine who got it from a Hispanic neighbor. How this supposedly exceptionally rare plant got from one particular isolated spot in southern Mexico to Central Florida I do not know. It doesn’t even have an established common name, but it makes a nice lemon-flavored herbal tea. (See my article on Oaxaca lemon verbena.)

The following jelly recipe is from “Florida’s Incredible Wild Edibles” by Richard Deuerling and Peggy Lantz. The book is for sale on Amazon. Many years ago I used to wander through the Florida landscape with Dick and Peggy and others on outings with the Native Plant Society. They taught me a lot. The only problem with going into the wilds with such folks is it takes about an hour to go a hundred feet because there is so much to be said about the plants one knows, and debates, usually over some unidentifiable “dirty little composite.”  Here is a link to their book:

 Beautyberry Jelly

1 ½ qts. of Beautyberries, washed and clean of green stems and leaves. Cover with 2 qts. water.Boil 20 minutes and strain to make infusion. Use 3 cups of the infusion, bring to boil, add 1 envelope Sure-Jell and 4 ½ cups sugar. Bring to second boiland boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand until foam forms. Skim off foam, pour into sterilized jars, cap.

UPDATE: One of my students, Fred, does a lot of foraging and has lived his life in mosquito-ladened Florida. He reports: [Beautyberry’s]  “jelly is awesome but I really love the beautyberry for its insect repellent properties. After learning about this from a Green Deane class and being an avid forager myself I decided to use the beautyberry as a bug repellent so it wouldn’t slow down my summer foraging (Florida summer mosquitoes can be horrible). I pretty much chopped up a plant(leaves and stems) and boiled it in a pot and let it cool and strained the brown liquid into my blender, about 1 1/2 cups. In a separate pot I warmed some organic neem oil (1 cup) with 1 ounce of beeswax until melted. Then you turn the blender on and pour in the oil mixture very slowly and it becomes a cream. I have to say hands down the best insect repellent ever! Because its a creme on july/august days one application is all you need for the entire day even when your sweating.”

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A small, deciduous shrubs 1 to 2 m in height, leaves opposite, elliptical to ovate, large, with saw-toothed edges.  Flowers cluster around stem, funnel-shaped with four clefs.  Fruit magenta 2 to 4 seeds, White fruited ones are an escaped cultivar and edibility is unknown.

TIME OF YEAR: Spring and fall in Florida, late summer to fall in northern climes

ENVIRONMENT: Dry,open woods, moist woods, thickets and hammocks, adapted to climates with hot, humid summers and moderate winters

METHOD OF PREPARATION: A few berries can be eaten raw, depending upon your agreeing with the flavor, otherwise makes a great jelly. The berries can be used to make a tea with antioxidants.


Native American Indians used the roots and leaves to make a tea to treat fever, dysentery, malaria and rheumatism


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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim August 23, 2017 at 15:44

Have you ever made Wine from them ?
They have a licorice taste to me, I think that would make a great Wine.
I have maybe three hundred growing on my property.


Dennis & Debbie Penrod May 28, 2017 at 11:18

My dog keeps eating the leaves off the callicaapa Dicchotoma Plant. He later looks down and out until he throws the leaves back up. Are they bad for dogs?


L. Macha December 21, 2016 at 16:59

Has anyone made jelly from the berries of Mexican Beauty Berry (‘Black Beauty Berry’) , Callicarpa accuminata.?

Produces HEAVY berry crop every year.


Rebekah March 7, 2017 at 16:27

My mom has, it tastes a little like strawberries.


Barbara McAdam November 23, 2016 at 13:46

I used ripe berries in a beautiful salad yesterday for a holiday lunch at our Extension Office.


sam capitano October 31, 2016 at 13:47

had these berries growing in my yard for years cant wait to try them , thank you for sharing . monstera delicious or swiss cheese plant . the fruit is delicious however you must research it because prior to fruit being ripe it is toxic , axylic acid .best i ever had . any questions


Michal Eldridge October 17, 2016 at 08:11

I made this jelly this weekend – and it was amazing. It will be one i make for many years to come, thanks for sharing this information!


Donna October 4, 2016 at 16:06

I think the article does the flavor of these berries a disservice – I’d call it fascinating.

The first impression is a pithy sweetness, followed by a slight tang and a surprising herbal flavor – almost but not quite like celery. This fades to a mildly astringent aftertaste.


rhonda September 26, 2016 at 12:58

Can the berries be frozen to use in jellies/jams later?


Green Deane September 26, 2016 at 19:12



Dana September 15, 2016 at 17:58

Thanks for so much informative information. I really enjoyed reading about the beautyberries and all the comments. I was looking for information to find out if the berries were poisonous for dogs as we have one that eats everything. I now assume that since they are safe for people, they are probably safe for pets?


Green Deane September 15, 2016 at 19:57

If I find information about toxicity regarding pets I add it. As far as I know the berries do not bother dogs.


Jv August 27, 2016 at 07:17

…question on making jelly… I usually never use sure-jel or pectin when I make other fruit jam, is it really necessary with beauty berries?
I just discovered lots if it’s bushes growing on our recently acquired property. Very happy to hear of it’s mosquito repellent properties!:-) thank you!


Jacquelyn Cafasso August 30, 2016 at 12:03

I just made regular jam with my beauty berries (blended the whole berry in a food processor for a few seconds) rather than making jelly from the juice. I’ve never had to use any pectin or sure-jel either. I usually add a bit of tapioca starch just in case it doesn’t gel enough.

Worked out just fine! It has a slight flowery taste, but otherwise is similar to other berry jams


Libby Neves August 16, 2016 at 16:21

This is one of my favorite plants, they volunteer here in South Georgia. If they are related to Lantana, I can understand an allergic reaction to Beauty Berry. I am very allergic to the Gold dwarf Lantana, also Artichoke plants.


Dianne June 20, 2016 at 12:29

We have been plagued by mosquitoes and those biting deer and horse flies while riding our horses in the woods. Last week we had to dismount and brush about 30 of them from underneath our horses bellies just in order to keep them from going crazy and bolting off. Even though we don’t like using the traditional store-bought horse fly sprays, we did try several over the last couple of years and none of them really work all that well. After reading this we experimented this weekend with the beauty berry. We cut small branches we tucked into their tack. We also rubbed some fresh leaves all over ourselves and the horses. We could not believe the results! We had a 2 hour ride each day this past weekend and we’re not troubled by any biting insects. There was an occasional fly that attempted to make a problem but was easily shooed away. We are so lucky to have tons of this bush growing all over our pastures. It is also along every trail that we ride on so it is easily acquired along the ride as well. THANK YOU!!


Elizabeth January 20, 2016 at 13:08

Do you know the quantities in u.k. measurements for both the jelly and the insect repellant please.


Ilse heine November 8, 2015 at 20:35

What an informative site you have. All my questions and more were answered here regarding the beautyberry. Thank yoy


Jaya October 16, 2015 at 12:41

I have a little story to share about my experience of making the jelly.

Last week I was teaching a permaculture/gardening class for elementary students, and one of the boys came up to me with a few beautyberries that he had picked from the woods nearby and asked if they were edible. I had previously read about it here on so I told him that they were edible and that we could make jelly from the the berries.

I have been planning to try making the jelly for a while because I have a bunch of plants in my backyard so I decided to attempt it in today’s class. It was so much fun to see the kids’ excitement when they came out and saw bags of beautyberries.

Most of the kids were suspicious though since the common belief among them was that the berries were poisonous. After I reassured them, they excitedly tried them raw with varied opinions about the flavor.

The kids all helped pick out the good berries. Since I didn’t know what to expect, and you said that not everyone likes the taste, I started to get a little worried when the smell began wafting from the boiling pot, and the color of the liquid became an unattractive brown while the berries began to look more like fish eggs. After we poured in the sugar and pectin, though, the liquid instantly became a beautiful rich red and the smell became pleasant.

In the end, the jelly came out perfectly, and everyone loved the flavor. I will definitely be making it again and highly recommend it. Thank you so much for sharing your recipes and knowledge of our rich environment. I love visiting your site and watching your videos!


Zachabriel September 26, 2015 at 17:36

I love this site. My husband and I forage frequently as a shared hobby. I have used the beauty berry to make my own ink for years and always just called it the ink berry. Now I know! We will be making Jelly, insect repellent, fish stunner and ink. 🙂


Naeemah September 24, 2015 at 16:59

Thanks Green Dean I found this plant today on my walk I did not know what they were until now thanks


Beth September 23, 2015 at 12:10

I picked my berries yesterday. I will be adding apple peel to the mix that will be removed later. Also I will be using apple cider as part of the liquid. Making sure it will gel.


mark jr. September 18, 2015 at 14:45

Could I be allergic to them? When I bit one my mouth felt really painful and that feeling persisted for about ½ an hour. After that my mouth was numb for about 1 hours. I do not thank I got the wrong plant. I would like to make jam but I am afraid it might be to it of a risk.


Green Deane September 18, 2015 at 17:14

There is no accounting for personal allergies but I have not heard of anyone having such a reaction.


Alisa Kenney August 1, 2016 at 16:58

You may have picked the similar looking pokeweed/pokeberry/inkberry. The berries are somewhat toxic. The root more so.


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