Symphoricarpos albus (L.) Blake
No extant material. Seeds of this taxon
were probably collected or more likely taken from a now lost (or destroyed)
specimen possibly gathered near Pattee Creek, Lemhi Co., Idaho, on 13 Aug 1805.
Low-growing (2-6 feet tall) deciduous shrub has very slender,
opposite-branching stems, and a dense system of rhizomes. Leaves are deciduous,
opposite, small (¾ - 2½ inches long), dull green in color, and have smooth or
lobed edges. While roughly oval, leaf shape varies greatly, and leaves on new
growth may be deeply lobed. Flowers are small (¼ inch or less), pink to white,
bell-shaped, and appear in short, dense clusters. Berries persist through winter
and are white, up to ½ inch in diameter, and grow in tight clusters. In winter,
look for white berries and small, opposite buds on very slender twigs. Dry to
wet sites. In forests, shrub thickets, open slopes, dense woods, along
roadsides, on sandy river banks, and in deciduous forests. Full sun to partial
Caution: The fruit contains saponins. Although toxic, these substances are
very poorly absorbed by the body and so tend to pass through without causing
harm. They are also broken down by thorough cooking. Saponins are found in many
plants, including several that are often used for food, such as certain beans.
It is advisible not to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins but it
would take extremely large doses of many kilos of fruit from this plant in order
to produce toxic symptons.
Snowberry was commonly employed medicinally by several native North American
Indian tribes who valued it especially for the saponins it contains. These
saponins can be toxic, but when applied externally they have a gentle cleansing
and healing effect upon the skin, killing body parasites and helping in the
healing of wounds. The native Americans used it to treat a variety of complaints
but especially as an external wash on the skin. The plant is little, if at all,
used in modern herbalism. Any internal use of this plant should be carried out
with care, and preferably under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. See
the notes above on toxicity.
The whole plant is disinfectant, diuretic, febrifuge and laxative. An infusion
of the stems has been drunk to treat stomach problems and menstrual disorders. A
decoction of the leaves has been used in the treatment of colds. A poultice of
the chewed leaves has been applied, or an infusion of the leaves has been used
as a wash, in the treatment of external injuries. A weak solution of the stems
and leaves has been used as a wash for children whilst a stronger solution is
applied to sores. A poultice of the crushed leaves, fruit and bark has been used
in the treatment of burns, sores, cuts, chapped and injured skin. An infusion of
the whole plant has been drunk and also applied externally in the treatment of
The fruit has been eaten, or used as an infusion, in the treatment of diarrhea.
An infusion of the fruit has been used as an eye wash for sore eyes. The berries
have been rubbed on the skin as a treatment for burns, rashes, itches and sores.
The berries have also been rubbed on warts in order to get rid of them - this
treatment needs to be carried out at least three times a day for a period of a
An infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of fevers (including
childhood fevers), stomach aches and colds. A decoction of the root bark has
been used in the treatment of venereal disease and to restore the flow of urine.
An infusion of the root has been used as an eyewash for sore eyes.
decoction of the roots and stems has been used in the treatment of the inability
to urinate, venereal disease, tuberculosis and the fevers associated with