Snowberry (Xue Rui)
Botanical Name: Western – Symphoricarpos albus laevigatus. Eastern – S. sinensis.
Do not confuse snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus laevigatus), with creeping snowberry (S. mollis aka Gaultheria hispidula). Snowberry has long been used by Native Americans who have used the plant medicinally to treat external skin conditions, burns, injuries, and rashes, and internally, to treat stomach and menstrual disorders. Internally it needs to be used with caution as it contains compounds that can be toxic if taken in high doses or if too much is eaten raw. A decoction of snowberry has been used to fight fevers, colds, and tuberculosis, and to promote urination.
Watch a short video, from Ann Christensen, Founder and Creator of White Rabbit Institute of Healing™ – How Native Americans Traditionally Used Snowberry…
Below is an overview of snowberry, combining the best of Western Science, Oriental Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore, and a wide range of healing modalities. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of snowberry.
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Western Name: Snowberry
Also Known As: Snowberry, Waxberry, Ghostberry, Corpseberry
Organs/Systems: Skin, Bladder, Digestive, Respiratory
Key Actions: Disinfectant, Diuretic, Febrifuge, Laxative, Emetic
Medicinal Uses: Stomach disorders, colds, menstrual complaints, diarrhea, poor urination, tuberculosis, impetigo, eczema, injuries, burns, parasites, venereal disease, muscle aches, constipation, post-birthing womb cleanse.
Pin Yin: Xue Rui
Also Known As: N/A
Meridians: Lung, Stomach, Bladder
Key Actions: Clears Heat, Promotes Urination, Soothes Skin, Kills Parasites
Medicinal Uses: Colds, fevers, skin rashes, injuries, eczema, burns, parasites, eye irritations.
Basic Habitat / Botany:
Snowberry is a small genus of about 15 species of deciduous shrubs in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae. The shrubs can grow to be 3 to 6 feet tall and, over time, they will grow into a thicket. The twigs are slender and yellow-brown. The leaves are long, rounded, entire, or with one or two lobes at the base. The flowers are small, greenish-white to pink, and grow in small clusters of 5 to 15. The fruit is conspicuous 1 to 2 cm in diameter, soft, and varying from white to pink, and in the Chinese species, blackish purple. The interior of the white berries looks like fine, sparkling granulated snow and contains 2 to 5 white stone seeds. The berries create a cracking sound when stepped on. The berries will linger on into winter.
All species of snowberry are native to Central and North America, except S. sinensis, which is native to western China. The shrubs like stream banks and swampy thickets, but can thrive in dry areas as well.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Leaf, Stem, Root, Berry
Flavors/Temps: Bitter, Cooling
Caution: Snowberry contains compounds that can be toxic when eaten raw or in too large a dose. Not recommended for pregnant women. Considered safe when used in recommended doses. Safe when used externally.
Key Constituents: Saponins, Secologanin, Aesculin, Tannins, Terpenes, Triglycerides, Coumarins, Flavonoids
History/Folklore: Snowberry was commonly used as a medicine by native North American tribes. While the saponins the plant contains can be toxic, used externally as a wash, it has gentle cleansing and healing properties useful for treating the skin. It can help kill parasites. A poultice of the chewed leaves, or a wash made from the leaves, was applied to external injuries to help them heal and prevent infection. The berries have been rubbed on the skin to treat rashes, burns, itching, warts, and sores. Traditionally, an infusion of the whole plant has been used internally and externally to treat skin rashes.
An infusion of the roots has been used to treat fevers (including childhood fevers), and stomach aches and as an eyewash for sore eyes, and colds. A decoction of the root bark has been used as a treatment for venereal disease and to promote urination. A decoction of both the roots and stems has been used to promote urination and treat venereal disease, tuberculosis, and fevers associated with teething sickness.
A tea made from the root has been used to cleanse the womb after giving birth.
Snowberry can be a gastrointestinal irritant capable of causing vomiting, bloody urine, and delirium. The plant’s berries have a strong emetic effect (promotes vomiting) typically expelling undigested berries before they can cause further harm. The unpleasant taste of the raw berries also helps to inhibit and reduce their consumption. Only two cases of poisoning have been recorded, one in 1885 and the other in 1979. Both involved severe vomiting shortly after ingestion with undigested berries being expelled from the body before further harm could occur.
The berries are edible raw or cooked but have a bitter soap-like flavor. The saponins they contain can be toxic but are also poorly absorbed by the body, so tend to pass through without causing harm. Saponins are also broken down through cooking. They are found in many plants and foods, including beans. Large doses of saponins can be toxic. Native Americans used this toxicity to help them catch fish by putting large quantities of the leaves and berries in streams or ponds to stun and kill them.
The saponins found in the berries have contributed to the berries being used as a hair wash and a mild decoction of the wood has been used as a cleansing wash for babies. The crushed berries have also been rubbed into the armpits as an antiperspirant. Native Americans commonly used the berries as soap. The berries put in a hot bath can also help treat impetigo.
The berries and bark combined have been used in a salve, applied daily to treat paralysis caused by nerve damage from stroke. The salve can also be used to treat burns, eczema, cuts, and bruises.
An infusion made from the berries has been used to treat diarrhea and cleanse the eyes.
The name snowberry is derived from the Ancient Greek words meaning “to bear together”, “interweaving”, “connection”, and “fruit”, referring to the closely packed clusters of berries. The berries’ extreme whiteness has led to calling them corpseberry or ghostberry, described as a food for wandering ghosts.
The plant is very important to wildlife during the wintertime as a food source and shelter. Deer, elk, birds, and small mammals will all feed off the berries and shrubs that often grow above the snowline during the winter months.
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Snowberries are edible but they can taste like bitter soap! Some say they taste like wintergreen.
The berries can be poisonous to humans if taken in high doses, especially when eaten raw. The berries are enjoyed by wildlife and are an important source of food for many species.
Snowberries rubbed on warts at least three times a day for several weeks are said to help remove them.
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