American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

American beautyberry (callicarpa Americana) grows like mad around here and is immensely popular with the local wildlife. Its leaves repel biting pests. When I take Roo out to go walkies in the pastures and woods here in what feels like the Tick Capital of the Freakin’ World, I stuff lightly crushed beautyberry leaves into my boots and pockets and tuck a couple under her collar to discourage the ticks. It’s not DEET, but it does help some, and around here, every little bit of help is welcome.

The berries are gorgeous, but they aren’t really the best for snacking on raw (for humans anyway). They make a really pretty jelly, though. Here’s a recipe.

I’m positive that I attempted to use them to stain a table once, and I seem to recall waxing it afterwards to help retain the color. I’m not positive, but I think I recall the end result being pretty disappointing – there was doubtless some chemistry involved that I was ignorant of at the time that might have helped fix the color. No luck with making ink yet, either, but I’ll update if I manage a decent batch or come across any new intel on using it for ink/dye.

In this region, medicinal uses have been pretty varied. The Alabama treated fever, malaria, and rheumatism with it [1], the Seminole used the roots and bark to treat snake sickness (characterized by itching skin, among other things) [2], and the Choctaw used the roots and/or berries to treat various gastrointestinal problems [3].

I don’t know of any traditional uses for it in specifically hoodoo rootwork, but folks in my neck of the woods make a weak tea with the ripe berries for a facewash, the association being with the “beautyberry” name from what I can gather, and use the leaves to drive away pests of the more figurative type, corporeal or otherwise.

So while it probably won’t ever make an appearance in a fiery-wall type of protection formula, it could easily find a home in lower-key work when you have a welcoming smile on your face but are keeping a side-eye out for any pestiferous or weaselly influences that you want to bar the way against. In fact, if you ask me, there’s nothing fiery about it. It’s a pretty “friendly” plant. If it owned a restaurant, it would smile and hold the door open for you. It just doesn’t take any shit, and if you look all weaselly like you’re gonna be annoying or try to worm your way out of paying the check, it’ll make you feel supremely unwelcome.

Part of the Bayou Hoodoo Herbal project.

Last update: 3 Sep 2021.


Sources

[1] Swanton, John R, 1928, Religious Beliefs and Medical Practices of the Creek Indians, SI-BAE Annual Report #42:473-672.

[2] Sturtevant, William, 1954, The Mikasuki Seminole: Medical Beliefs and Practices, Yale University, PhD Thesis.

[3] Taylor, Linda Averill, 1940, Plants Used As Curatives by Certain Southeastern Tribes, Cambridge, MA. Botanical Museum of Harvard University.

Bushnell, Jr., David I., 1909, The Choctaw of Bayou Lacomb, St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, SI-BAE Bulletin #48.


Text and photograph © Karma Zain and Seraphin Station, 2020-2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karma Zain and Seraphin Station with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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