Bright purple and stunning to look at, beautyberries are nowhere near as well known as most species of berry. They are so beautiful that they appear photoshopped and you will not have an easy job finding them for sale anywhere, but these berries are actually for real.
Not only do they look amazing but they are actually edible and there is ongoing research into their potential benefits for health.
What is Beautyberry?
Beautyberry, sometimes referred to as beauty berry (with a space), is a small, violet-colored fruit growing on the beautyberry bush. There are over 160 species of beautyberry bush growing around the world with the most common being the American beautyberry, the Japanese beautyberry and Europe’s Boldnier’s.
The beautyberry bush, known scientifically as Callicarpa, grows to a height of between one and four meters and produces beautiful clusters of small, violet-colored fruits known as beauty berries. Most people assumed they were inedible because of their color but with the advent of the internet, people realized they could in fact be eaten and they are commonly used to make jams.
They have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat inflammatory conditions as well as bleeding disorders. A common Asian variety of the plant called Callicarpa dichotoma, is also grown for ornamental purpose.
They get their name because of their beautiful, bright purple or violet colored appearance. Despite being no relation to mulberries, they are commonly referred to as French mulberries.
Are Beautyberries Edible?
Yes they are. Neither the fruit nor the leaves are poisonous to humans. They do however have a bitter taste and birds rarely eat them unless other food sources are scarce. Their bitterness is the reason that people do not usually eat them raw or fresh.
They have a very pleasant fragrance and a zesty flavor but this soon becomes bitter on the tongue. They are more suited as an ingredient in jelly or jam or used to make wine and tea.
When cooked or boiled, the berries lose much of their bitterness. Jam and jelly recipes typically include sugar that helps balance out the flavors resulting in a sweet, tangy taste.
While they are considered safe for humans to consume, the data regarding potential side effects is minimal. One review mentioned mild nausea as a possible side effect but that may have been caused by the flavor rather than the fruit itself.
Allergic reactions are also theoretically possible but have not been documented.
Beautyberry Essential Oil
There is ongoing research into the potential benefits of an essential oil derived from the plants. Up to now, the bulk of the research into the essential oil has focused on its use as a natural insect repellent rather than its medicinal uses. However, research into its abilities to treat memory conditions and anti-cancer potential is currently taking place.
The plant’s essential oil contains around 70 different chemical compounds. 60% of the oil is made up of terponoids which have potential antimicrobial benefits.
The main active compounds found in the essential oil are Humulen epoxide II, Alpha-humulene, Beta-pinene and 7-epi-alpha-eudesemol. (1)
Also present in the oil is a compound called carnosol. Studies have found that carnosol has powerful antioxidant properties and can help protect the lungs from damage. (2)
Health Benefits of Beautyberry
Despite being used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine, there is still relatively little evidence that beautyberries can do all that they are claimed to do. Much of the research to date has focused on the plant’s ability to naturally repel insects.
The plant and its fruit is now undergoing more studies into its potential health benefits but these are at an early stage and no clinical trials have been conducted so far. Nevertheless, researchers are finding evidence that the beautyberry may have plenty to offer.
Researchers have found that beautyberry has excellent has antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may have various health applications. Let’s take a look at what we know so far.
Beutyberries have powerful antioxidant benefits that make them useful in reducing inflammation and preventing disease including serious disease like heart disease. Unfortunately, we do not have an ORAC value for the beautyberry fruit or plant making it impossible to compare with many other fruits and herbs.
Nevertheless, studies done so far have revealed that beautyberries are high in antioxidants and may have a number of important health applications.
Inflammation and Lung Damage
A Japanese study, published in 2015, looked at the effects of some two hundred plant extracts, specifically whether they could stimulate combat oxidative stress caused by injury and inflammation by stimulating the NRF2 pathway.
The study looked at the effects of the extracts on mice with lung damage and found that the lungs of the mice given beautyberry extract (Callicapa longissima) for a week were less damaged than the mice used as a control.
The researchers found that the plant was a good source of NRF2 activators which they believe was the result of the compound – carnosol. The researchers concluded that carnosol may be a candidate to improve success rate following lung transplant. (3)
To sum up, by boosting the level of NRF2, beautyberry extract may have a positive impact on inflammation and help the body to heal.
According to animal studies, beautyberry may also have a positive effect on diabetes. One study looked at the effect of flavonoids and phenolic commpounds derived from the plant’s bark. They concluded that the antioxidants present in the plant may help prevent or treat diabetes caused by oxidative stress. (4)
Traditional practitioners have been using beautyberry extract for its purported antimicrobial benefits for many years. This prompted researchers to test the antibacterial effects of a species of the plant called Callicarpa tormentosa, which grows in Sri lanka and India.
The researchers used triterponoids isolated from the plant’s bark and found that they had antibacterial activity against the antibiotic resistant MRSA strain if bacteria. This is the strain responsible for staph infection and is notably difficult to treat. (5)
The researchers concluded that the extract could be explored further in developing future treatments for S.aureus infections.
In 2004, researchers in South Korea tested the effects of an essential oil derived from the Japanese species of beautyberry called Callicarpa japonica. They found that it was highly effective against the common foodborne bacteria – Salmonella and Bacillu cereus. (6)
Another study found that extracts from Callicarpa americana or American beautyberry were effective against a waterborne bacteria called cyanobacteria. (7)
According to research, the beautyberry plant also has anti-fungal properties making it useful against certain types of fungal infection.
One study, published in 2012, looked at the anti-fungal effect of a European species of beaytyberry (Callicarpa kwangtungensis). The researchers found that the essential oil of the plant was effective against the fungus responsible for yeast infection – Candida albicans. (8)
A number of laboratory studies have also found that compounds isolated from beautyberry have antiviral properties making it potentially effective against various types of virus.
One study looked at the effect of a flavone isolated from Callicarpa japonica against herpes simplex (HSV-1). The researchers found that the flavone had an inhibitory effect against the herpes simplex virus because it interfered with the virus bonding to the cells.
The researchers also found that the plant extract worked synergistically when combined with acylovir – an ingredient found in common herpes medications like Zovirax. (9)
To sum up, laboratory tests have found that certain compounds present in the beautyberry plant have significant antimicrobial benefits. However, none of these effects have been tested on either animals or humans as yet.
Over the past decade, researchers have been examining the effects of various compounds, isolated from the beautyberry plant on cancer cells. Again, we should point out that so far, the experiments have been conducted only in the laboratory and there is still no research into their effect on humans.
The first study was conducted in 2007 by researchers at the University of Illinois. The research team isolated various diterpenes from all parts of the American beautyberry plant including its fruit, twigs and leaves. When they were tested against human cancer cells in the laboratory, the researchers found the majority of the compounds had cytotoxic effects against human cancer cells. (10)
Several laboratory studies have since added support to the original results. A Taiwanese study, published in 2012, found that compounds isolated from a different species of beautyberry (Callicarpa longissima) were also effective against prostate cancer cells. (11)
A Malaysian study, published in the same year, had similar results when the plant was tested against human breast cancer cells. (12)
A Chinese study also found that compounds isolated from Callicarpa nudiflora had anti-cancer actions against leukemia cells. (13)
While these studies have only been conducted in the laboratory, the signs are promising.
Brain Health and Memory
Studies are at an early stage, but there is some evidence that beautyberry isolates may be an effective treatment for boosting memory and may have future applications for diseases like Alzheimer’s.
One study, published in 2006, isolated a compound called acteoside from a species of beautyberry native to Asia called Callicapa dichotoma. The researchers fed the extract to mice that had been doped up with a medication called scopolamine.
The researchers fed the extract to the mice daily and found that they performed better in certain memory tests than mice in the control group. (14)
The researchers concluded that the acteoside, isolated from beautyberry, improved memory and might have significant future value in treating certain cognitive conditions including Alzheimer’s disease.
Whether or not you think than lightening your skin is a good thing depends on your own preference. In the part of Asia where i live, whitening products are big business and there is considerable research into natural products that can do the same job.
Several Japanese studies have been conducted to examine the effects of carnosol, isolated from the plant. The researchers have found that the compound reduced the production of melanin in the skin by suppressing the MITF gene.
The researchers concluded that beautyberry was a potential novel and attractive source for natural skin-whitening. (15)
Natural Insect Repellent
Much of the recent research into the effects of beautyberry has focused on its ability to repel insects including mosquitoes and ants. Several studies have revealed that it has potential as an effective natural alternative to chemical repellents like DEET.
Research has found that mosquitoes are repelled by compounds found in bneautyberry, specifically a compound called callicarpenal.
The researchers tested the effects of the compound against the Aedes mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus and found that it compared favorably with DEET. (16)
An American study published in 2007 looked at the effects of compounds isolated from the American beautyberry against deer ticks and lone star ticks.
The researchers found that the plant isolates was equally as effective in repelling the ticks as DEET. This is significant since the deer tick is responsible for transmitting Lyme disease to humans.
The researchers concluded that the two compounds isolated from beautyberry – namely callicarpenal and intermedeol had the potential for future commercial development as a natural tick repellent. (17)
According to studies, the same beautyberry compounds are also effective against arthropod insects and fire ants. (18)
To sum up, studies suggest that compounds isolated from beautyberry represent an effective potential alternative to chemical commercial repellents and are effective against a range of insects.
How to Use Beautyberry
You are highly unlikely to find beautyberry for sale at any stores or even in local markets. However, if you are lucky enough to have them in your garden or live in an area where you can pick them, you can use them to make a delicious jam.
American beautyberries are most common in the South Eastern states of the USA. In Florida, the best time to pick the fruit is fall. You can find them growing in forests, parks and even along roadsides. Growing in clusters, their distinctive, bright, purple-colored berries are hard to miss.
While they are edible, they do not actually taste very nice if you eat them raw. They are extremely bitter but when sweetened to make a jelly or jam, they make for a delicious ingredient. The unique taste is not easy to describe but many people compare the taste of the jam to elderberry.
If you are lucky enough to have access to beautyberries, then the following jam recipe is well worth a try.
Beautyberry Jam Recipe
- 6 cups of beautyberries
- 8 cups of water
- 6 cups of sugar
- 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
- a (1.75 oz pack of pectin
- a saucepan
- a ladle
- canning jars
How to Make it
Step One : Wash your berries and remove any unwanted leaves and twigs. Place the beautyberries in a large saucepan and cover with the water. Cover the pan with a lid then bring to the boil. Cook for around 20 minutes then remove from the heat. Allow the mixture to cool for at least 15 minutes.
Step Two : While your berries are cooking, measure 3 pieces of 24” cheesecloth and layer them on top of each other. Once measured, place your cheesecloth into a large bowl.
Step Three : Take a ladle and put the cooked berries and the juice over the cheesecloth. Form a ball by pulling the ends of your cheesecloth together. knot the top and squeeze all the juices into the bowl.
Step Four : Place the juice into a clean saucepan. Add the pectin and bring it to the boil.
Step Five : Add the sugar and fresh lemon juice. Continue cooking for another few minutes until you see the juice has started to thicken. Once it has thickened, remove the juice from the heat and skim of the foam.
Step Six : Ladle your finished beautyberry juice into your jars and then secure the lids tightly. make sure that you sterilize your jars first.
Store in a cool, dark place. If the mixture fails to gel, you can use it as a sauce for ice cream, to flavor a yogurt or pour over your oatmeal.
- Beautyberries are not especially common or popular but they are edible and may have various health benefits.
- Studies done to date have found they contain powerful antioxidants and have excellent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
- Recent laboratory research suggests that compounds isolated from beautyberry may also have anti-cancer potential as well as improving memory.
- Most of the studies into the health benefits of beautyberry have been done in the lab and more animal and human studies are necessary.
- While edible, beautyberries are not very pleasant eaten raw or fresh. They do however make a good ingredient for jam jelly and ice cream sauce.