Black Bryony – Tamier
Black Bryony is found in central and southern Europe. It grows at the edge of the forest in moist but well-drained soil. It is a perennial climber, with twining stems, 2-4m long. The glossy, bright green, heart-shaped leaves (10 cm), follow the light. There are separate male and female plants. The flowers are small, greenish-yellow in colour with 6 petals. The male stamens form a long cluster 5-10 cm long, the female flower cluster is shorter. The fruits are red, the size of red currants. The root is rather large, it can weigh several kilos.
Medicinally, the root was never much used internally as it was considered to be too aggressive; externally it was used as a poultice to treat bruises. The whole plant is poisonous. It contains saponins which, although toxic, are not easily absorbed and pass through our system. They also get broken down in cooking. Saponins are particularly poisonous to fish. The berries are the most toxic, they contain oxalate crystals that can be fatal to young children.
The young shoots of the plant, gathered in early spring, are eaten. They taste like asparagus, a little bitter and should be cooked like asparagus. A change of water during the cooking eliminates some of the bitterness. It is considered a real delicacy in the Tarn region of France, where the young shoots are sold in the local markets.
Bibliography: Sauvages et comestibles – Marie-Claude Paume; Tamus communis – website Practical Plants; The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism – Malcolm Stuart