You’ll see the stunning red (or white) fruit clusters of Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra), on any walk in the montane wood in K-Country in August. They stand out, with clusters of up to 20 bright shiny berries, markedly different than anything else in the forest.
In late May and early June, you can see the flowers, too. Equally showy, they are bright white, large delicate balls of fluff. Neither the flowers nor the fruits suggest this plant is as dangerous as it it.
Those fruits contain ranunculin. Break the berry apart (or even crush the leaves), and enzymes break ranunculin down into a glucose and a nasty chemical called protoanemonin. Ingest this toxin, and you can cause experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness, spasms, acute hepatitis, jaundice, or paralysis. Bad stuff, and you can experience those symptoms by eating as few as 6 of the bitter berries. Just 2 berries can kill a child. On the bright side, there has not been a recorded North American fatality.
But with traditional uses
All members of the Buttercup family like Red Baneberry have ranunculin, and all parts of these plants are poisonous. And yet, Blackfoot people boiled the root, and used it as a cold remedy. They mixed the root with spruce needles to treat stomach issues. Other North American indigenous peoples used the berry juice to poison arrow tips. There are even reports that it has been used treat menstual cramping and issues with menopause.
So long as you can keep the berries away from children, it makes and excellent garden plant. Just collect some berries when red and ripe in late August or early September, before they fall off. Scratch them into your soil a few centimetres deep after you pick them. They should sprout in spring.
Meet some of the other flowers of K-Country here!