All species of snowberry are native to Central and North America, except S. sinensis, which is native to western China. The Chinese variety has purplish berries, the North American variety has white to pale pink berries.
Be aware you do not want to confuse snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus laevigatus) with creeping snowberry (S. mollis aka Gaultheria hispidula). They are different plants.
Among its many attributes, here are three aspects of snowberry worth knowing about:
- Snowberry is best known for treating external skin conditions, burns, injuries, and rashes. It can also be used as an eyewash.
- Internally, it needs to be used with caution as the saponins found in the plant can be toxic if eaten raw or in too high a dose. Once the saponins are cooked off, a decoction of snowberry can be used internally to fight fevers, colds, and tuberculosis. The plant has long been used safely as a medicine by Native Americans. There are only two recorded cases of reported poisoning. One from 1885 and the other from 1979. In both cases severe vomiting caused the remaining undigested berries to be expelled from the body before further harm could occur.
- A decoction made from the root bark has been used as a treatment for venereal disease and to promote urination.