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wonderberry aka sunberry (solanum burbankii)

 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Wonderberry...........I'm not sure why I grew this........I did once years ago and pretty much reached the same conclusion this time...too big and sprawly and not tasty at all. I am watching a cardinal eat them though. How long does it take for them to fully ripen? this has been weeks since they turned purple and i suspect the birds are getting the ripe ones before I notice them. I've read that the berries are dull looking (not shiny anymore) when they are ripe....I'm not finding them, I guess.
anybody grow these and actually eat them?

My picture is of a plant with LARGE berries more the size of nice blueberries....some of the plants had tiny berries and their flavor was OK. I grew them from seed from Baker creek. They said small fruit and small plants so I wonder if my plant is a throw back or something....not true to type.
wonderberry.jpg
[Thumbnail for wonderberry.jpg]
 
Jd Gonzalez
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Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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I believe that they acquire their berry taste after being cooked with sugar. Sort of like preserves or pie filling.
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5614
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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thanks, JD...I guess I was hoping they might be a fruit that didn't need sugar to be palatable I may just let the birds have them or give them the rest of the summer and try to dry some. I thought the fruit needed full ripening and the ones I test are still kind of green inside even though purple on the outside.
 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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I got a packet of these seeds (labelled with their other common name of Sunberry) from Seed Savers Exchange this winter. Planning to try them out even though nobody much seems enthusiastic about the fruit. I do have a ton of cardinals hanging around, so at least somebody will be happy!
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5614
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Dan Boone wrote:I got a packet of these seeds (labelled with their other common name of Sunberry) from Seed Savers Exchange this winter. Planning to try them out even though nobody much seems enthusiastic about the fruit. I do have a ton of cardinals hanging around, so at least somebody will be happy!


That plant in my picture sprawled to an eight foot circle...I ended up cutting it back and giving up on the fruit. The ones I had set in in the garden I cut out even earlier because of their sprawl....I have a feeling we, or whoever lives here next will have them popping up forever from the fruit that I left on the ground
I really think that the ones that made small berries were the intended variety and these with big berries were not.
They all seemed to do well without getting watered so that was a plus...mine was in a 'guild' with a cherry, some comfrey, oregano, borage, a volunteer peach and clover...they all seemed to get along well together.
 
Dan Boone
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Sounds like I ought to put them out in the area I am prepping for trees, so they can fight with all the grass that I'd like to get rid of.
 
William Bronson
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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Just bought 1000 seeds. My boy wanted to plant "some " .
We are hoping they make good wine, and he wants to pair them with chickory .
We have a lot that is rocky and possibly polluted. Fruits are perfect for this, plus I am lazy and self sewing plants are awesome.
How did you start them? I have heard to do them like tomatoes, but I have 1000 seeds. I am considering winter sewing, or direct sewing, what do you think?
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5614
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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How did you start them? I have heard to do them like tomatoes, but I have 1000 seeds. I am considering winter sewing, or direct sewing, what do you think?


Yes, like tomatoes. ...and like tomatoes I think everything you mention would work fine. I started early in a flat and then transplanted out. The germination was great and I gave away as many as I could and composted many plants because I only wanted a few. If I ever plant them again I think I would direct sow and thin... plant in some places where nothing else does well. A big upside was that the deer and rabbits left them alone and there were no bugs that I noticed...just the cardinals snitching berries as they ripened
 
Landon Sunrich
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Just fair warning. From my experience Solanacea will often totally take over everything - it will totally try and set the tempo for your ecosystem. This is fine if that's what you want, but for me, who is kinda sensitive to the semi-toxicity that the solanum still have, not a good option.
 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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I grow either this plant or a very similar relative and by that I mean someone before me grew it here and I am left with it. Although I have found a good use for it. I let it grow all summer into the sprawling, crawling tangle and then cut the whole thing out and throw it to the chickens. They like to eat the berries and leaves, and it breaks down nicely. I have removed it from any forest garden areas and prefer it to be a loner out in the yard or on the edge of a cultivated area where it can move out into lawn and not over edibles. It has potential in being a trap crop for something as it seems for most of the season something is eating the leaves and not the tomatoes.

Dan, this would actually work to clear out grass in a certain diameter, but you would possibly be left with a lot of seeds ready to sprout.




The berries on my plants will taste sweet from the plant if they are left long enough to get a dull look. It is a difficult aspect of this bush for human use, I look at the plant at any one time and see that:
1. Ripe berries usually fall off about .02 seconds after getting the dull look so they are littering the ground
2. About 80 percent of the berries are still shiny so they taste similar to a tomato/ no flavor.
3. The rest of the berries are still green

Best way to harvest is to get a tarp under it and shake since if anything is ripe it's about to fall off anyway.

Here's a pic from my project thread of my rooster checking out the stash of wonderberry bushes he just received.
 
Dan Boone
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Zach Muller wrote:

Dan, this would actually work to clear out grass in a certain diameter, but you would possibly be left with a lot of seeds ready to sprout.



This will actually work for me. One of the dominant weeds here is Solanum carolinense (aka Horse Nettle) which nothing seems to eat. And it has unpleasant thorns. So if these berries thrive I'm no worse off, and if they beat out some of my aggressive grasses I'm ahead of the game. Edible berries (for me or for the birds) is just a bonus. (I love attracting birds, I feel like I get a considerable fertility bonus wherever they congregate and poop.)

I am trying dozens of things looking for ground covers that are more useful than the weeds and grasses currently dominant. And the trick is finding something that can compete with the established stuff since I am not likely to till much. This sounds well worth experimenting with.

-- Daniel
 
Zach Muller
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Yeah good luck, I bet you can diversify the wild growing solanums, I went the other way, I had wonderberry and imported horse nettle seeds to compliment. In my neck of the woods when I see horse nettle there is Usually hairy vetch nearby. Is that the case with your land? If so there may be some companion opportunities to give your desoiree plants a leg up.

 
Dan Boone
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There is indeed a vetchy legume that grows thickly nearby, but not in exactly the same places as the horse nettle. I didn't have a way to ID it last summer, but now I have a good book (Field Guide To Oklahoma Plants: Commonly Encountered Prairie, Scrubland, and Forest Species) so I should be able to confirm an ID this May or June.

I'm curious why you wanted the Horse Nettle? Its virtues have not yet revealed themselves to me.
 
drake schutt
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Location: mid. TN
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I too got different varieties. I enjoyed the small berries but the large ones never ripened. The small ones fall off when ripe and have super delicate skin that bursts very easily. I thought it was because I was playing with gibberellic acid in the kitchen since the giant ones looked like mutants but I guess not.
 
Zach Muller
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Dan Boone wrote:

I'm curious why you wanted the Horse Nettle? Its virtues have not yet revealed themselves to me.



I have a deep affinity for all plants Nightshade for some reason, especially the poison ones. I was on a camping trip in medicine park and it was the first time I'd seen those berries, so I nabbed some. I knew they were related to datura and tomatoes and probably poison. Just like most plants, a soon as I got back home I started seeing it popping up everywhere I looked. Only later I researched some uses.

Here's a few taken from wiki:

Historic Uses
American Indians used horse nettle as a mouth gargle to heal sore throats and took it internally to kill worms. It also served as a topical treatment for poison ivy and mange on dogs. Historically, people used it to treat epilepsy, asthma, bronchitis and other convulsive disorders; medical investigations continue to evaluate the impact of horse nettle on these ailments. Horse nettle was also used to treat rattle snake bites.

Modern Day Uses
The horse nettle plant is currently under investigation for additional healing properties. The ripe berry of this plant contains less solanine, the toxic substance found in all parts of the plant, than the young horse nettle. The full grown berries are still used today for different ailments. People working with herbs use it as a sedative or antispasmodic. Grown berries are used as a diuretic and in the treatment of arthritis.

I read some speculative research that horse nettle actually contains a different alkaloid than Solanine, or the other common nightshade alkaloids. One that resembles hydrastine. This is referenced in the article here




 
Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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Here in Kenya we grow a type of vegetable - in English they just call it "nightshade" - and I believe it is a type of Wonderberry. We don't eat the berries (tasteless - and rumored to be toxic if eaten green)- however we eat the leaves as a cooked green. In the local dilect its called Lisutsa - its very nutritious and tasty (if you like bitter greens). I'm wondering if this is really the same plant as you are discussing - as there have been mentions of it being poisonous? Anybody know?
 
Zach Muller
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I actually did a boatload of searching on s. burbankii and s. Nigrum before I decided it was edible and not poison. I found that there were two common plants called s. Burbankii, one that had berries sized like large blue berries and one sized more like peas, both essentially the same otherwise. Then there is s. Nigrum which is pretty much identical with the small berry version of s. Burbankii but both vary quite a bit.
Then there is the whole other issue of this plant being confused with deadly nightshade (atropa belladonna ) in some literature and being treated as a unsafe.
I found this blog post to be the most complete information on black nightshade in one place, very good read.



I started eating this plant in the Kenyan way, cooking the greens. You are right they are tasty, no problems with them. Although in my area the leaves get eaten up as the season rolls on, is that not the case for you in Kenya? The berries would indeed be poison if they were still green, I did not test that, but I think like a green tomato, but even more.

Edited to add, I found lisutsa Listed here As s. Nigrum.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Thanks for the info Zach,
The version we eat here has small berries - pea sized. There are some variations in the leaf - a variety which has jagged-edged leaf, versus a smooth leaf variety, and also size. The smaller leaf varieties have a stronger, more bitter flavor. The larger leaf variety is mild. Easier to pick and prepare, but not as tasty, in my opinion. I think the difference is seed-source. The jagged-edge and small leaf varieties are traded amongst farmers, the large leaf variety is grown from cultivated seed sold by Kenyan seed companies.

We love this vegetable. My husband would eat it every day if it were available - so yeah, by the end of the season we've got a bunch of almost leafless scraggly looking 'sutsa... I try to leave some alone because it will re-seed itself...but I always have to plant more.




 
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