Last winter, on a whim, I bought wonderberry (Solanum retroflexum) seeds. I winter sowed them, they sprouted easily, and soon grew big in my garden. For a while, they sported tiny white flowers, then green berries. Now, the berries are turning purplish black.

I'd read wonderberries are bland in flavor, and mostly mixed with sugar or other berries to make jams, pie fillings, cobblers, and the like. But when I tasted my first wonderberry, I was wonderfully surprised. I found the flavor complex and unlike anything I'd ever tasted. It reminded me of a not-sweet red wine. My husband liked the berries, too, saying they tasted like a cross between a huckleberry and an elderberry. Both my children also enjoyed eating the berries right from the bush. I think we have a winner here!

Currently, I'm freezing the berries as they come off the bush, and plan to use them in recipes I normally use for blueberries. For example, blueberry muffins or cobbler.

It is important to note the common names for this bush - "wonderberry" and "sunberry" - are also names sometimes incorrectly used to describe a highly poisonous plant called the European black nightshade (S. nigrum). (Although it freaks some people out that wonderberries are related to nightshades, remember many of our most popular foods are in the nightshade family, including tomatoes and potatoes.) Therefore, it's vital to make sure you know what you're eating before you eat it. I'd only purchase seeds from a reputable source, like Baker Seeds. Also, even wonderberries (Solanum retroflexum) are poisonous when the berries are green, so don't plant this bush where young children might play unsupervised.

The plants themselves grow only up to 24 inches high, but mine are only about a foot tall and are producing abundantly. The bush grows in all USDA gardening zones and likes full or part sun, but won't survive a hard frost. Since they are so easy to grow from seed, I'm not worried about this - although I do wonder if they will reseed themselves. I notice when I pick the berries lots of tiny seeds fall to the ground.

Although I had great success winter sowing my seeds, most sources recommend having a soil temperature above 70 degrees for the best germination. Picking is easy, too. Simply running your hands under the berries makes them fall readily, so keep a bowl or basket beneath them as you pick.


1 comment

  1. Hmmm. I may have to get some seeds to try these next year!