The herb known as the bittersweet is a vine like perennial herb that has long trailing or climbing stems reaching up to ten feet in length each. The plant is characterized by possessing heart shaped to oval leaves that alternate on each side of the stem; each single leaf normally has two earlike segments at the base. The herb bears unique star shaped flowers which bloom in April lasting till September, these flowers are a pinkish purple and have bright yellow stamens. In the fall, the flowers turn into green berries, that all turn a bright red in color.
The bittersweet is considered to be a weed in many areas; it is seen as a very aggressive and persistent weed. The herb belongs to a botanical plant family that also includes useful species such as the potato and the tomato; it is seen as a black sheep in this family of plants. The bittersweet herb was used as an external remedy for the treatment of many different skin diseases at one time, even though it is very toxic. The herb was used in treating all kinds of sores and swellings and used to lower the level of inflammations affecting the region around the fingernails and the toenails. The medical community stopped using this plant for any medicinal purpose long ago. However, recent clinical research suggests that the bittersweet herb contains a useful tumor inhibiting chemical component called beta-solamarine - this compounds may be useful in treating cancer and carcinogenic tumors. Traditionally, the herb had other uses as well, the extract of the stem was normally prescribed by herbalists, this extract was used as a sedative, as a pain relieving agent, and as a diuretic. This extract was also given to asthma patients.
The species name of the bittersweet herb - dulcamara, is a reference to the taste of the berries. The berries initially have a bitter taste and then become unpleasantly sweet as they ripen. Bittersweet is a native European species, it has been naturalized in America. The herb also has a Native American relative, the plant called the horse nettle - S. carolinense, is closely related to the bittersweet. The horse nettle bears yellow colored berries that have been effective in the treatment of convulsive disorders, this herb is also used in treating menstrual problems and related disorders in women.
Twigs, leaves, root bark.
Remedies made from the bittersweet herb have a stimulating effect; they also act as an expectorant, and also posses detoxifying abilities. The bittersweet is very effective when consumed to treat different kinds of skin problems like long term eczema, persistent itchiness on the skin, disorders such as psoriasis, as well as warts. An herbal bittersweet decoction made from the twigs can also be used as a topical remedy, when this decoction is applied as an herbal wash on the skin, it can help reduce the severity of these disorders and ease the symptoms. Bittersweet can also be used as a remedy to bring relief from asthma, and to treat related respiratory illnesses such as chronic bronchitis and rheumatic problems. The bittersweet is also effective in treating gout and related disorders.
In addition to the other beneficial properties mentioned above, the bittersweet herb has a mildly narcotic effect; it also possesses a diuretic and alterative effect. It also has diaphoretic and discutient effects on the body. The bittersweet must be taken in small doses, as large doses can bring on side effects such as dryness, and heat with stinging pain in the face, the person may experience great thirst, discomfort in the stomach, he or she may vomit. These symptoms may be accompanied by persistent diarrhea, by prostration or syncope, as well as spasmodic twitching all over the body. In some people, large doses of the herb can lead to a depression in the action of the heart and affect the arterial flow of blood; this can bring on a moderate degree of lividity on the hands and face of the person. Side effects can also make the head of the person feels unusually heavy and he or she may be affected by spells of dizziness. The person may also develop a cutaneous erythema. The bittersweet is reputed to be an antaphrodisiac, and is beneficial in the reduction of mania accompanied by powerful excitement of the venereal functions; it can depress the libido in oversexed individuals. At the same time, in some cases it is believed to increase venereal desires, and to bring on heat and an itching sensation in the female genitalia along with strangury.
Remedies made from the bittersweet are effective in treating most acute problems associated with colds. The remedy is also helpful in treating chronic skin affections of a pustular, vesicular, or scaly character especially if the disorder has affected the person for a long period of time. Bittersweet remedies have principally been used in syrups or decoctions for treating cutaneous diseases, to treat syphilitic diseases, as well as rheumatic and cachectic problems. Bittersweet decoctions and syrups are also used in treating ill-conditioned ulcers, to treat problems like scrofula, as well as in the treatment of indurations from milk, leucorrhoea, jaundice, and menstrual problems caused by vaginal obstruction. Bittersweet remedies are also very effective in treating scaly cutaneous diseases than other types of disorders; they are used in alleviating leprosy, tetter, and porrigo, particularly when combined with other useful herbs such as the guaiacum and the root of the yellow dock herb.
Remedies made from the bittersweet are effective in the treatment of catarrhal disorders - these are problems that result due to cold or suspended cutaneous action. Bittersweet is also effective in treating suppression of normal menstruation, especially when it is accompanied by symptoms such as persistent headache, nausea, and chilly sensations - such problems occur when the menstrual flow has been arrested by cold. Small doses of the bittersweet remedy are useful in treating problems like dyspnoea, cough, and pain in the chest produced by exposure to cold weather. Bittersweet remedies are also useful in relieving catarrhal headache induced by acute colds, and this remedy is also helpful in treating nasal catarrh. The herb is also a remedy for retrocession of eruptions, and slows down eruptions on the skin. Bittersweet is alterative and can be used as a general remedy, it has a mild action on the stomach and actively aids in the secretion and excretion processes occurring in the body. Bittersweet remedy is also useful in treating vesical catarrh, particularly if the disorder is aggravated by dampness. The remedy has also been found to be helpful in the treatment of catarrhal diarrhea affecting children. It is also effective in dealing with acute and chronic rheumatism in people who are over exposed to the cold or who dwell in cold or damp areas. Bittersweet has been used to successfully treat nymphomaniacs and satyriasis. When used in small doses, pundendal itching and stitching pains can be relieved by bittersweet. Bittersweet remedy taken in large doses will however, have the opposite effect and produce these symptoms in a person. Syrup prepared using equal parts of the twigs, mixed with the root of the yellow dock herb and the stillingia is helpful in treating scrofulous disorders, the same can be used in treating syphilitic disorders as well. The bittersweet is also prepared into a lotion or ointment for external problems; it is employed as a discutient for treating painful tumors. The ointment is used as a topical application in treating some types of cutaneous diseases, ulcers, and erysipelatous disorders.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
The bittersweet herb is a native plant of Europe, parts of North Africa, and some parts of northern Asia. The herb is now naturalized in North America and grows in the wild. Bittersweet is a fairly common plant, found along roads and paths, it blooms well in open areas and waste lands. The root bark is gathered in fall while the twigs are collected in the spring or in the fall.
Dosages for the herbal infusion made from the bittersweet herb can be two doses of the herb daily. The herbal infusion can be prepared by pouring a cup of boiling water on a teaspoonful of the dried herb and letting the herb infuse into the water ten minutes.
Collection and harvesting
The collection of the stems of bittersweet takes place in the months of September and October, while the leaves are collected during the summer months.