Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bittersweet Memories

Since fall is well and truly begun, I decided it was time to change our background to reflect the autumn colors around me. Enjoy!

Bittersweet berries.
 A dear friend of mine, Nancy, introduced me to  Oriental Bittersweet, a plant that grows in the wild here in Maine and other parts of the nation. It is potentially toxic, definitely invasive, and decidedly lovely. Once planted to help battle erosion along road sides, these vines are now being removed in many places, since they have adapted better than the native species, American Bittersweet. A relative in the Night Shade Family, all parts of this plant (especially the red seeds) are potentially poisonous to humans and animals, except perhaps birds- who seem to be able eat the seeds without an issue. I will not test this out on our beloved chickens, though!

"Oriental bittersweet is a vigorously growing vine that climbs over and smothers vegetation which may die from excessive shading or breakage. When bittersweet climbs high up on trees the increased weight can lead to uprooting and blow-over during high winds and heavy snowfalls. In addition, Oriental bittersweet is displacing our native American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) through competition and hybridization." (Source Material: PCA Alien Plant Working READ MORE HERE.)

So with all the potential risk, why am I interested in Bittersweet? Like many decorators, the cheery orange yellow berries that pop open to reveal a bright red seed appeal to me. Since it grows as a vine, it is very easy to use to create lovely wreaths and braided garlands with and lasts for at least a year and sometimes longer. The garland I had braided shortly after our wedding in 2008 to decorate Grandma Re's hutch in the kitchen was in desperate need of replacing.

Hail the conquering Hero!
So, despite the threat of rain showers, my daughter Caitlin and her dog, Maggie and I all ventured to "our spot" to collect us a trunk full of Bittersweet yesterday. We left early in the morning and drove the hour to Brooksville. There we pulled onto a disused logging trail, pushed our way through the brush, and began to cut long pieces of branch and vines. It would have been very convenient if we found much of it growing low enough to harvest easily. Such was not the case. Most of what we found grew high enough that it took the two of us to get to it. Caitlin gently pulled down on the branch and I reached as far as I could to cut some away from as high up as I could reach. When we cut all we could reach relatively easily, we walked up the roadside and attempted to gather some while simultaneously avoiding both wickedly sharp thorns from a bush standing guard in front of it or toppling into the 6 foot-deep ravine winding behind it. A delicate balancing act that left us both covered with small punctures and scratches, but with my car's trunk full of wreath-making treasures.

Back at home, we spent the next couple hours immersed in the pleasant task of chatting together, removing all of the leaves and braiding the branches and vines into decorations. You can't make them wrong. It is all a matter of taste. I like mine to be loosely braided and very free flowing in design. I created one wreath and 2 garlands. Caitlin made two wreaths by twining the branches together to form circles. Twist garden ties work great to secure them in circle form until they are braided enough to hold the shape desired of them without the additional support. We were very careful to bag all the left-over, unused parts so we could safely dispose of them. I usually burn the parts I don't use in our fire pit. These were my finished pieces:

The berries start out a lovely orange-yellow color. Within a day or two, they pop open to reveal bright red seeds.

I am not versed in the use of medicinal plants, but when I was doing research for this post, I came across some interesting information about the medical usage for Oriental Bittersweet. According to THIS ARTICLE, it appears that besides its value as a decoration, other parts of the plant may have medicinal uses.

"Root: Tea made from root bark has emetic and diuretic properties and is a folk remedy for liver ailments, skin problems, leukorrhea, and rheumatism. Also, used to treat childbirth pain.

Bark: Bark used in ointment to externally treat burns and minor skin problems.

Leaves: Leaf tea is astringent and used for diarrhea and dysentery."
Source: Medical Plants- Bittersweet (link above)

I thought the article was interesting, but I think I will stick to using it as decoration for the now. 

Farm House Style Hop #2

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Thanks for your visit today, friends.
Sonja ♥


  1. Wow, such a clever way to use the plant! I absolutely love the wreath. Your entryway looks so inviting!

    Love the blog update, too! Looks very fall-like :)

  2. Very crafty and thrifty. Can't beat free, and you had bonding time with your girl child while you were at it. I call that a win win!
    I am diggin' your front door, that color is awesome, it just pops. You go on with your decorating self.

  3. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing on the Farmhouse Style Blog Hop!