Lantana camara: Much Maligned Nibble

Ask anyone who has heard of the Lantana camara and they will tell you it is poisonous.  And they are right. Unripe berries have killed children and the foliage has killed livestock. But listen to Professor Julia Morton who was the leading expert in Florida on toxic plants.

Multi-colored Lantana camara blossoms

In her book “Plants That Poison People in Florida” she states: “The ripe fruit are eaten by natives wherever the plant grows.” She wrote that in 1995. A 1996 study by Herzog said the same thing (Coppens d’Eeckenbrugge & Libreros Ferla (2000), TAMREC (2000). On the other hand the University of Texas at Austin says the ripe berries are toxic and Delena Tull in her 1999 book about plants in Texas writes: “Though some previous publications assert that the ripe fruit is edible, experimental studies show that both ripe and unripe fruit are potentially lethal.”

So there you have it. Two views of the Lantana camara. I’ve eaten ripe berries as a trail side nibble and I am still here. They are very sweet, crunchy and slightly aromatic. I have not made a pie nor have I consumed more than a handful at a time but they have posed no problem thus far. However, they can make you more light sensitive so it is a berry best tried one at a time until you know you are not effected by it.

Ripe Lantana camara berries

Just so there is not confusion. Ripe means deep blue or black berries. Not green or partially green. There is no doubt that green Lantana camara berries have killed children and sickened adults. Conversely, a mild tea made from the leaf is still used in the Caribbean Islands to ease cold symptoms. The ripe berries are used to make jam, jellies, pies and cordials in Ecuador.

Lantana camara (lan-TAY-na ca-MAR-ah)  has had a bit of linguistic history. Virgil (70-19 BC) called a plant lenta viburna, or flexible viburnum, now called V. lantana. It was used by Linnaeus for the genus name for these plants. Camara is a local South American name for the plant. Lantana grows from North Carolina west to California and points south.

Introduce from South American, it is listed as one of the worst weeds in the world. Butterflies, however, love it and it is a must-have bush in every butterfly garden. It’s the birds that spread the seeds around.  It is also a cousin to the American Beautyberry.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A persistent evergreen shrub to 6 ft (1.8 m) high,  8 feet in width. Leaves are 2-5 inches long by 1-2 inches wide with rounded tooth edges and a textured surface. Stems and leaves covered with rough hairs. When leaves are crushed they smell like cat urine.  Flowers, small, in clusters typically 1-2 inches across. Flowers year round, color range from white to yellow, orange to red, pink to rose in unlimited combinations. Flowers often change color as they age.

TIME OF YEAR: Fruits can ripen all year but are heavy in the early summer. Fruit when ripe is purple/black.

ENVIRONMENT: Waste places to landscaping to a potted plant. Prefers full sun.

METHOD OF PREPARATION:D ark ripe berries out of hand. They have a flavor similar to a cross between black currants and cherries.  They can be used to make jams, jellies, pies, and cordials.  The fruits can be used to produce a light purple dye. The leaves can be used to polish wood.

 

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Shannon April 13, 2016 at 12:27

My bull Terrier loves to eat these, these picky about plants that she eats, this one she loves. She only eats it when she has an upset tummy or is constipated, it helps her use the bathroom. I’ve never seen her vomit from it only act like a laxative.

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Green Deane April 13, 2016 at 17:21

Well then… we know they aren’t too toxic to dogs.

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Geoff March 10, 2016 at 04:27

Has the plant ever been used as a component in beer?

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Green Deane March 10, 2016 at 14:12

Doubt it. The plant is toxic except for very ripe berries.

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sharon April 14, 2016 at 12:32

I’ve been reading that the leaves are used for tea and the roots are a traditional medicine.

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Green Deane April 14, 2016 at 13:17

I don’t know. I am a forager not an herbalist. That’s beyond my pay grade.

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Cheryl July 26, 2016 at 13:55

I like your sense of humor and your forager knowledge. 🙂

willem bezemer December 29, 2015 at 16:38

Fascinating articles indeed. Noticed 15 or so years ago that it was an ingredient in a commercial meat tenderizing concoction in a Cajun meat rub I had in my kitchen or it might have been in the Zartrain shrimp boil spicing.

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Matthew October 28, 2015 at 03:20

do you think it would be safe to make a vinegar or ferment from lantana flowers, i have see a local cocktail company using them for garnish.

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Green Deane October 28, 2015 at 09:43

There are over 150 species of Lantana but yours is mostly likely L. camara which was introduced to Australia in 1841 or so. My first thought is that it is difficult to make vinegar out of any blossom. The blossom have to be used to make wine first and then the wine inoculated with bacteria to make vinegar. However, white vinegar can be flavored with blossoms such as putting magnolia blossoms into vinegar. The real question is are the flowers safe to consume? I don’t know but if they are using them in cocktails for a garnish (which has great potential to be eaten) I would guess no. Are you sure of the blossom’s species?

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Rocky August 14, 2015 at 07:39

I am southern part of india too, i have eaten this fruit humpty number of times and had no problems whatsoever..

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grus July 19, 2015 at 18:19

we have these lantanas in my rural area. am here and i enjoy them whenever i find them ripe. we use them as hedge around the fields.

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mimi May 19, 2015 at 06:08

my great dane puppy ate a whole lantana plant yesterday. It was in full bloom. she has diaharia now. will this kill her. she weighs about 55 lbs and is 4 months old. What should I do??
please answer me I am frantic my puppy might die
Mimi

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Green Deane May 19, 2015 at 07:11

Call your local vet.

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Ray April 23, 2015 at 22:08

I have never eaten Lantana but I car tell you this, if you are bitten by a fire ant. Take a couple leaves and crush them, spread the moisture of the lantana over the bite . Five to ten seconds the pain is gone and most of time the bite will no longer bother you. If it does repeat with another leaf within 24 hours. I have used it for years on fire ant bites sometimes you never receive the white puss bump and if you do it has harden up and causes no pain.

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KimH April 18, 2015 at 11:16

Growing up in the Texas sub-tropics we had Lantana growing wild everywhere.. its still one of my favorite flowers. It does have a funny smell but its one that I really love..
I ate many many wild plants growing up.. but I dont remember ever trying to eat the Lantana.. Who knows.. Maybe I ate some & survived..
Thanks for a great site!

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Suzanne March 23, 2015 at 10:33

Thank you all for the information. I just planted 16 lantana’s in my front yard and had no clue they are poisonous. I have 2 boxers and wonder if I should pull them out? Both my dog and the neighbor’s dog were trying to eat them before I got them planted. Advice appreciated!

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Green Deane March 23, 2015 at 21:01

Dogs usually aren’t interested in Lantana.

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Mek March 18, 2015 at 07:29

Wild Lantanas of various varieties grew in our parent’s backyard and in the fields and as a kid I ate ripe Lantana flowers on side road picks, the dark blue ones, it’s sweet and taste nice. No one told me it can be eaten but as a kid I did try to taste the berry . Kind of experimental one and I liked it. Imagine if this was poisonous, I could have long been dead and would not be able to write this comment 🙂

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Green Deane March 19, 2015 at 19:56

Thanks for writing. I know what you mean. Kids eat things and for the most part survived.

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Danny van Cleeff March 5, 2015 at 12:17

I just checked this website again because of all the conflicting opinions. I myself have eaten handfuls of ripe and semi-ripe berries without noticing any effects. They usually disappear quickly thanks to birds. My 6-week old goat has been busily nibbling at the leaves for at least 2 weeks without apparent ill effects. One of my dogs has bonded with her and he nibbles along with her. Again, with no apparent effects.

My goat will nibble and spit out Live Oak and Carolina Laurel Cherry leaves which dominate the landscape here in Florida. She also avoids the Oxalis. One would think she knows what to eat and what to avoid.

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Green Deane March 5, 2015 at 15:07

One would think that animals would know what not to eat but our experience with wed-fed livestock says that is not the case. The first modern big book on plant poisoning in North America was written for livestock owners. Also, hungry animals will eat many things not food for them. Also animals can eat things humans can and we can eat things they can’t.

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Robin August 2, 2015 at 09:00

Thank you for that reply. I work in a vet’s office and animals will eat poisonous plants. And just because your pig, or a wild bird eats it, doesn’t mean it’s safe for your dog or cat. There are plenty of plant based foods that are safe for humans and not safe for pets. I would never test the toxicity of a plant by waiting to see if my dog gets sick after he eats it! Never let your pets consume plants that you aren’t completely sure are safe.

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Heather February 9, 2015 at 18:28

Hi, I live in central Florida. I live with severe chronic pain everyday. I met a medicine man, 1/2 German 1/2 native American Indian. His grandmother (Indian medicine woman) taught him all the various natural herbal remedies. He’s very compassionate and the day we met I told him how much pain I’m in everyday. He gave me a baggie full of Lantana leaves and stems, dried out, he told me to make a tea, sweeten it and drink it. Honestly my pain (even with seriously STRONG, LARGE DOSES of narcotic pain medicine) my pain was still intolerable/unbearable. I didn’t care/want to live, so…….. I made the tea, with a small handful of leaves & stems, for the first time in nearly twenty years, I have found excellent pain relief. I don’t need to spend hours at the doctor, nor pay outrageous amounts of money that I don’t have becauseI haven’t been able to work. And I still could not work with my condition, but I’m now able to do light housework. And I’m comfortable enough to live. Also, I have, on many occasions, caught my 1-1/2 year old pup nibbling on the Lantana plants in the back yard. The mosquito theory and info is very interesting. Thank ya’ll it’s very nice learning & teaching.

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Thierry November 18, 2014 at 13:42

I am so glad to hear the Lantana has herbal and food purposes. My goal is to only have plants with those two purposes in my yard. I was on the verge to getting rid of my Lantana, the only thing holding me back was that the humming birds, butterflies, and bees liked it so much. I am going to keep it now, Thanks!

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JoAnne Beard November 14, 2014 at 12:54

I tried my first Ripe Lantana Berry Today…I have been curious for years…my bush is a tree! 🙂 Yummy…tasted like a mini purple grape…no convulsions 🙂

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jordan November 13, 2014 at 05:18

since my childhood i have been enjoying ripe lantana fruit, its edible. may be i need a little more info about its leave

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lizeth potgieter November 5, 2014 at 14:43

Can I make an ointment from the plant for psoriasis and how

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Green Deane December 1, 2014 at 18:23

I am not an herbalist. I do not know the answer to that question.

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Christi September 17, 2014 at 14:24

Our two dogs (9 lb Pomeranian and 45 lb Pit bull) ate our Lantana bushes to the ground! Now they concentrate on wearing the dried pods from the mesquite tree…

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Linda Murphy August 17, 2014 at 15:51

My little dachshund eats the lantana leaves and I have seen no side effects. But I visited this website to see if anyone has any information about the lantana. I’m relieved to read about other dogs that eat the leaves also. Thanks for the information.

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Christine January 2, 2014 at 21:29

My goodness, I grew up seeing these plants everywhere in my neighborhood! Mostly for landscaping and since no one ate the berries, I just assumed they were poisonous. What a shame I’m discovering edibles now!

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Ryan November 6, 2013 at 20:28

My 2.5 year old Rottweiler likes to eat them. He’s been eating them for over a year now and will stop whenever he wants. 126 lbs and healthy. In fact, he just ate them after eating dinner when I let him out to pee. The times he eats them are random. Not quite sure why he likes to eat them but I haven’t seen any bad side effects.

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Mary Carey October 13, 2013 at 12:46

I am coming across more and more dogs that love to eat the leaves.
They are all healthy, beautiful condition and doing the Iridology and viewing the eyes is fascinating. Is there anyone else that has had this experience please share with me. I have my thoughts on that it stops mosquitoes biting them . They do not eat all the year round either. Thanks Mary from South Africa

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Roland Jones August 3, 2013 at 07:38

Can the wood of Lantana camara be used for barbecues or wood it be toxic?

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Green Deane August 3, 2013 at 15:43

Personally I would leave the wood alone.

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Roland Jones August 3, 2013 at 07:28

I used to eat the RIPE black berries as a child. the green berries are very poisonous to cattle especially after frost.
Lantana camara is one of the worst alien invaders here in the warmer parts of South Africa. A large area has just been cleared.

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laxmi vidyasagar July 7, 2013 at 15:20

I grew up in southern India and have eaten lantana berries, maybe a handful at a time. They are sweet and very fragrant. I am sure as kids, we would have tried the unripe ones too and not liked the taste.

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Joyce E Forager March 20, 2013 at 10:02

I grew up drinking the the tea for colds, but didn’t know the ripe berries were edible. Thanks, Green Deane!

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IsraelGuy December 23, 2012 at 09:44

are all the verities of the plant edible, here in Israel, we got MILLIONS of this plant growing everywhere, i can literally go outside right now and come home with bags of fruit and flowers, but i am afraid that it will make me ill
how can i be sure,

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Green Deane December 23, 2012 at 17:38

Start with exact identification. A local botanist could do that.

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Stan November 9, 2012 at 09:58

My experience with Lantana has been positive, I love the plant. My wife, from Veracruz, has made tea from the flowers (usually a leaf or two in the mix) that almost instantly quites the menstral cramps and produces a gentle relaxed state . I think it would ( the tea of flowers) substitute for Camomile tea in the evening before bed time. I have collected the seeds and have plants growing in south Texas from all parts of the world.

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Dunori September 30, 2012 at 14:34

Both Lantana and purslane are used as landscaping decorum in the area of my job and never knew it was edible; thanks again G.D.

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pat franklin September 6, 2012 at 19:37

my lantana flowers smelllike cat urine

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sheila September 7, 2012 at 09:09

OM my yard is overflowing with Lantana and i thought it smelled just like flowering pear…and they are not in bloom at this time of yr. sooooooooooo it’s the Lantana…wish i knew that before i planted so many…i almost have a lawn of lantana!

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chris June 12, 2012 at 11:57

Linda,
Update, sorry its been a while. I’m still here, lol, I’ve been eating the berries! still little at a time. But I have also been crushing up fresh leaves and rub it on my bug \ mosquito bites as i work in the yard and it stops the itching! and seems to stop them from bitting me more too. I read that if you dry out the leaves and then burn them it acts as a mosquito repellant. I’m sure this works too when they are still green, just harder to burn. I’m researching now how to make tea for relief of symptoms of rheumatism, indigestion, joint pain, flu, coughs, colds sore throat, fever and possibly tapeworms?
Chris

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Linda Roberts May 19, 2012 at 06:29

Chris,
I also am interested in any uses for this plant as it is coming up all around my house in the orange grove where I live. The most amazing article I saved was from the use in the Philipines http://www.stuartxchange.org/Lantana.html

I have also asked a friend of mine to ask his mother about it, she is here visiting from the Philipines, I will let you know.
Linda

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chris May 17, 2012 at 08:48

I have been doing some searching on Lantana and have heard most everyone consider the plant poisonous. The leaves and Green berries are the poisonous parts. Like you mentioned, the ripe berries can be eaten. I read some children in Africa do eat the ripe berries with no problems. I’m glad to read that you have eaten them too with no problems so I will try a little too. I have also read and researched that the plant has many medicinal properties. From what I have read it is antimicrobial, fungicidal, insecticidal and nematicidal properties.
Chis

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