The healing power of bittersweet

In the past, people said to each other that God had placed bittersweet in inhospitable places, such as in swamps or near steep precipices, so that man was reminded that man is irredeemably lost if he acts carelessly. Bittersweet is a poisonous plant, but in small quantities it contains medicinal properties. In the past, the berries, which are not used for healing and are extremely poisonous, were used to make green and violet dyes. The medicinal power of bittersweet is still used today in phytotherapy to treat osteoarthritis, arthritis, gout, eczema, psoriasis and acne. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing bittersweet / Source: Kurt Stüber, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)


  • Traditional use
  • Magical effect of bittersweet
  • Naming
  • Active substances
  • Bittersweet wicks away moisture
  • Bittersweet, good for the skin
  • Dose and safety
  • Visit a doctor or herbal therapist

Traditional use

Bittersweet is known in folk medicine as a remedy for bronchitis, spastic cough and asthma. Modern scientific research has proven that bittersweet indeed loosens mucus, has a decongestant effect and has a disinfectant effect that combats pathogenic bacteria. In addition, it has traditionally been used as an anaphrodisiac; it reduces sex drive. Betasolamarin is also thought to have an antitumor effect.

Magical effect of bittersweet

A completely different way bittersweet was used was that it was hung over a cradle. This prevented the baby from being bewitched. It was also hung in the stable to protect the cattle from bewitchment. There were more herbs that were used for this purpose, but bittersweet belonged to the ‘ninth herbs’. These are the herbs that were most often used to prevent enchantments. Other nine-power herbs, also called nine-power herbs, are: mugwort, alant, woodruff, Celtic valerian, lemon herb, wormwood absinthe, liverwort and tansy. The pharaoh Tutankhamun, a relatively unimportant pharaoh but most famous for having the least plundered tomb, wore a necklace of bittersweet berries. This way he could safely cross over to the other world. Perhaps this necklace protected him from grave robbers.


In Latin, bittersweet is called Solanum dulcamara . Solanum is the name for all nightshade plants. Dulcamara is a combination of dulce, which means sweet and amaris, which means bitter in Latin. In Dutch the plant has a few nicknames: Alfsrank, Dolbessenhout, Dodebes, Dolkruid, Hondsberry, Climbing nightshade, Wild potato and Zouthout. The berries are poisonous; you can’t eat them. When you do eat them, they first taste sweet and then bitter; that is how the plant gets its name. Furthermore, the berries make you sick; it mainly has an effect on the nervous system. In the old Dutch names we see this in names such as dolkruid and dolbeshout.

Active substances

The stems of bittersweet are used for phytotherapeutic purposes. It contains the following important active substances: steroid alkaloid glycosides. The amount of these substances depends on the place of growth. Sometimes some of the following substances are barely present in this plant and sometimes to a high extent. On balance, there is always a medicinal effect. The different types of steroid alkaloid glycosides found in bittersweet are: soladulcamaridine, soladulcidine, solasodine, solanidine, solamarine, solanosine, solamargine, tomatidine and betasolamarine. Furthermore, bittersweet steroid saponins, or saponins based on tigogenin and yamogenin, contain solayamocinosides A and B, soladulcosides such as monodesmosides of spirostan-26-one, dulcamaretic acid, dulcamaric acid and tannins.

Bittersweet wicks away moisture

The stems of bittersweet purify the blood and the entire body. It also helps with blood viscosity or viscosity of the blood.

  • Arthrosis,
  • Arthritis,
  • Gout,
  • Hyperuricemia or increased uric acid levels,
  • Blood viscosity.

The blood purifying properties of bittersweet can be compared to those of sarsaparilla, sassafras and dandelion root.

Bittersweet, good for the skin

Because bittersweet has blood purifying properties, it is also a good remedy for the skin. All kinds of chronic skin conditions are an extension of the fact that there are too many waste products or toxins in the body. These must leave the body in a different way than normal; in this case this happens through the skin. When the toxin works its way out through the skin, it causes inflammation. Phytotherapy works to remove the causes of diseases; something that does not apply to conventional medicine, where symptoms are only masked. The medicinal effects of bittersweet are used by herbalists to treat the following indications:

Bittersweet / Source: MPF, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

  • Chronic eczema,
  • Psoriasis,
  • Acne,
  • Furonculosis or boils,
  • Prurigo or itching outbreak.

Bittersweet has a slightly calming and sleep-inducing effect.

Dose and safety

There are a number of ways to use this medicinal plant.

  • Taking the stems: one to three grams per day.
  • Decoction: Boil 10 grams of stems in a liter of water for two minutes and then let it stand for 10 minutes, this is called infusion. In the beginning you use 10 grams, which can be increased to 30 grams. Drink only the water, two cups a day.
  • Mother tincture: 20 drops three times a day.
  • Dried stem powder: One gram at a time and two to 10 grams per day.

Stick to the prescribed dose because there have been known cases of poisoning with bittersweet. It is true that almost all cases of poisoning are caused by eating unripe berries and only the stems are used in phytotherapy. Eating unripe berries or stems in large quantities has a negative effect on the nervous system. Symptoms of poisoning may include:

Flowers bittersweet / Source: Svdmolen, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-2.5)

  • Hyperexcitability or increased state of arousal,
  • Paralysis of the tongue muscles or tongue paralysis,
  • Loss of the ability to speak,
  • Vomit,
  • Dizziness,
  • Blue discoloration,
  • dilation of the pupils,
  • Convulsions.

Visit a doctor or herbal therapist

Much of the information about the medicinal plant mentioned in this article comes from the book Groot Handboek Medicinal Plants by Geert Verhelst. That is a handbook in phytotherapy. However, it is not suitable for self-healing. Anyone who suffers from something should consult a doctor or herbal therapist for a good diagnosis and choice of the best remedies, tailored to your personal situation. The knowledge and science mentioned here is of a purely informative nature.