Either I just never paid attention to it or the native American Beautyberry bush was not common in my niche of southern middle Tennessee and Northwest Alabama because one of the first things I noticed when I moved farther South was a bush with the most remarkably striking purple berries. The small berries grow in a ball shape around the ends of the limbs so that while the berries are small from a distance the purple is quite striking against a green backdrop.
I quickly purchased a bush which I promptly transplanted when we moved to the farm only to find them growing wild anywhere the guineas or wild birds dropped seed. I have let most of them grow wherever they decide to volunteer. It is a large sprawling shrub if left to its own devices or it can be pruned in winter to control its size. There is a white berried variety, however, in my opinion it can’t compare with the purple.
Beauty bush is native to the southeastern U.S. and is referred to as American beautyberry, sourbush, bunchberry, and falsely as French mulberry by some. It is not a mulberry nor is it French.
It can be propagated from seed or softwood cuttings. If preferred, it can be grown in a container.
It looks quite nice in fresh flower arrangements. Berries are also edible. While they don’t impress me much in flavor fresh off the bush they can be used to make jelly, tea, and wine.
Many sources indicate they repel mosquitoes and biting insects. Charles T. Bryson, botanist in Stoneville, Miss. reported that his grandfather cut branches with the leaves still on and crushed the leaves then put them between the horse and the harness to repel deerflies, horseflies, and mosquitoes. Forty years later he still crushes leaves and rubs them on his skin to repel insects. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060703091932.htm
The USDA Agricultural Research Service at the University of Mississippi conducted experiments and concluded that infusions of leaves and stems did, in fact, repel ticks, mosquitoes, and possibly fire ants. The naturally occurring compounds in beautyberry that repel insects are callicarpenal, intermedeol, and spathulenol. All three chemicals repulsed mosquitoes that carry malaria and yellow fever. Mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus were not tested in the study. The USDA-ARS has since filed for a patent using callicarpenal as an anthropod repellent. Seeing such an insect repellent on the market is not likely to happen any time soon, however, as it can take years to register a product with the EPA and conduct the exhaustive tests required. In the meantime I recommend planting your own beautyberries and either rubbing the crushed leaves on the skin or trying a recipe for making beautyberry spray or cream. Don’t forget to whip up a snack while you’re at it – perhaps pound cake with a little beautyberry jelly and whipped cream on top. https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/download/3640/PDF
BEAUTY BERRY JELLY.
1 ½ quarts of berries, washed and cleaned. Put in a heavy pot and cover with 2 quarts of water. Boil 15 to 20 minutes and strain. Bring 3 cups of the juice to a boil. Add 1 package of Sure-Jell, 4 ½ cups sugar, and the juice of one lemon. Bring to a second boil and boil for two minutes. Remove from the heat, skim off any foam and then pour the jelly into sterilized jars and put on flats and rings.
BEAUTYBERRY INSECT REPELLENT.
Use a combination of chopped stems and bark and leaves. Put 1 to 2 cups of chopped leaves and stems in a quart jar and fill with boiling water. Let set at least 4 hours or overnight. Strain. Fill an 8 ounce spray bottle half full of the infusion. Add witch hazel almost to the top – leave a 2 ounce space. Add essential oil of your choice. Shake before using.
BEAUTYBERRY INSECT REPELLENT CREAM.
Make the infusion as in the previous recipe. Put 1 ½ cups of infusion in the blender. Put 1 cup neem oil and 1 ounce of beeswax in a small pot and heat until melted. Turn on the blender and slowly pour in the oil mixture. It will thicken and become a cream.