Blueberries are one of the most popular and beloved berries around. Their sweet, tangy flavor makes them an irreplaceable ingredient in muffins, pies, jams, and more. Not to mention, blueberries are chock full of antioxidants and provide many health benefits.
However, when you come across wild berries that resemble blueberries, how can you tell if they are safe to eat? Some berries that look like blueberries are perfectly edible and delicious. But others can cause severe poisoning if ingested.
In this article, I will provide an in-depth guide on distinguishing between real blueberries and their lookalikes in the wild. I’ll go over:
- What are blueberries?
- How to identify real blueberry bushes
- Common poisonous berries that resemble blueberries
- Tips for spotting toxic berries
- What to do if you eat a poisonous berry
Let’s get started!
What Are Blueberries?
Before we look at berries that look like blueberries, let’s go over some key facts about real blueberries.
Blueberries are small, round, blue-purple colored berries that grow on bushes. There are several varieties of cultivated blueberries, including northern highbush, southern highbush, and rabbiteye. Wild blueberries, known as lowbush blueberries, are also commonly found in North America.
These berries have a sweet, slightly tart taste and smooth skin. They are packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium, and other nutrients. Studies show blueberries may help boost brain health, heart health, blood sugar control, digestion, and more.
True blueberries grow in clusters on green bushes with pointed, oval leaves. The bushes range between 1-6 feet tall depending on the variety. Blueberry flowers bloom into green berries, which turn blue-purple as they ripen between June to August.
Now that you know what real blueberries look like, let’s go over some key differences to watch out for when identifying lookalikes in the wild.
How to Identify Real Blueberry Bushes
Here are some tips for positively identifying real blueberry bushes:
- Blueberries grow on green shrubs or bushes, not vines, trees, or tall plants.
- The bushes have clusters of small, waxy, oval-shaped leaves with pointed tips.
- Mature blueberry bushes range from 1-6 feet tall depending on the variety, both wild and cultivated.
- White or pink bell-shaped flowers bloom in spring, then drop off leaving small green berries behind.
- Green berries turn reddish-purple as they ripen into blueberries from June through August.
- Ripe blueberries easily pop off the bush when gently pulled and feel soft. Underripe ones are hard and won’t detach easily.
- Wild lowbush blueberries are smaller than cultivated highbush and rabbiteye varieties. But all varieties have similar bush and berry characteristics.
If you come across a wild shrub with blue berries, inspect the leaves, flowers, bush shape, and berry characteristics to confirm it’s a real blueberry plant. Now let’s look at some imposters…
7 Common Berries That Look Like Blueberries
Many poisonous berries resemble blueberries in size, shape, and color. Here are 7 lookalikes commonly mistaken for blueberries:
Huckleberries look almost identical to blueberries. The best way to tell them apart is by the bush. Huckleberries grow on bushes around 2-3 feet tall, whereas blueberry bushes can reach 5-6 feet.
Huckleberries also have 10 hard seeds, unlike blueberries’ tiny soft seeds. While not poisonous, huckleberries have a tart, resinous taste and are not as sweet as blueberries.
Bilberries are sometimes called European blueberries since they strongly resemble the American species. However, bilberries grow on low, spreading shrubs and the berries are slightly smaller and darker than blueberries.
Their flavor is also sweeter. Bilberries are edible and provide similar health benefits to blueberries but be sure to check the bush first.
Deerberry shrubs produce clusters of round berries that turn a blue-purple hue. However, the branches have a reddish cast and the leaves are small and sharp, not smooth like blueberry leaves.
The berries themselves are dry and taste sour, bitter, and astringent. Eating more than a few may cause an upset stomach, so it’s best to avoid them.
While serviceberries are edible and tasty, they don’t look quite like blueberries. They are larger, rounder, and turn dark red to purplish-black when ripe.
Serviceberries grow on tall shrubs or small trees. So if you see a tree bearing what looks like blueberries, they are likely serviceberries. The flavor is milder than blueberries with hints of almond.
5. Nightshade Berries
Many poisonous plants belong to the nightshade family, bearing toxic berries. Deadly nightshade berries look like shiny blue-black cherries. Other nightshade berries can be red, black, or greenish-white.
Never eat nightshade berries as they contain toxins that cause nausea, stomach cramps, racing heart, and even death. Avoid berries growing on vines, tall plants, or shrubs with large, oval, flat leaves.
Pokeberries resemble large blueberries but grow on a very different plant. A pokeweed has thick, magenta-pink stems with large, oval-shaped leaves.
Green pokeberries turn dark purple when ripe. While ripe pokeberries are less toxic than unripe ones, ingesting more than a few can cause vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure and other ill effects.
7. Virginia Creeper Berries
This vine often climbs up trees and produces berries that start green and turn blue-black in late summer. The berries contain high amounts of oxalic acid and other toxins that make them poisonous to humans.
ingesting Virginia creeper berries causes abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. They can also irritate the skin and cause rashes.
As you can see, many berries that look like blueberries are actually poisonous nightshade, pokeweed, Virginia creeper and other unsafe berries. Be 100% certain of the bush or plant first before eating them.
How to Spot Toxic Lookalike Berries
Here are some tips for identifying poisonous imposter berries:
- Avoid eating any wild berries unless you’re absolutely certain they are blueberries. When in doubt, don’t eat them.
- Do not eat white, yellow, or green colored wild berries, including green unripe blueberries. The most toxic berries are light in color.
- Inspect the plant or shrub the berries are growing on. Toxic berries often grow on tall vines, trees, shrubs with large leaves or thorns, etc.
- Plants with red stems or spotted stems may be pokeweed or nightshade. Don’t eat their berries.
- Study the size, shape and texture of suspect berries and compare to blueberries. Lookalikes are often larger, shinier, and liquid-filled.
- Consult a botanist or field guide if unsure. Take photos and compare to reference charts before consuming wild berries.
- Rub the berry gently on your lips or touch your tongue to the juice. If it feels burning or stinging, do NOT swallow. Spit it out immediately.
- Start by eating just one berry first. Wait several hours to check for ill effects like stomachache before consuming more.
Taking these precautions can prevent accidentally ingesting poisonous berries. Still, it’s vital to know what to do if you eat a toxic berry…
What To Do If You Eat a Poisonous Berry
If you suspect you’ve consumed berries containing toxins, stay calm but act quickly:
- Spit out any remaining parts of the berry in your mouth. Rinse out your mouth with water or milk.
- If you swallowed a berry, drink water or milk to help dilute the toxin.
- Call 911 immediately if you ate multiple berries or are feeling severe symptoms like difficulty breathing.
- Call the national Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for guidance on treating berry poisoning.
- Note the plant, leaf shape, berries etc to help identify the toxin. Save some berries for identification.
- Vomiting may be recommended to get the toxins out of your body if poison control advises it.
- Watch for symptoms like nausea, stomach cramps, dizziness, weakness, sweating, confusion, hallucinations, seizures.
- Seek emergency care if you have severe symptoms, especially difficulty breathing, fainting, uncontrolled vomiting, bloody stool. These may signal organ damage.
While one berry may just cause minor stomach upset, swallowing multiple toxic berries can be fatal. So always exercise caution when foraging wild berries. Consult an expert when needed, and call 911 or poison control at the first sign of poisoning.
Forage and Feast on Wild Blueberries Safely
While many wild berries masquerade as blueberries, armed with the right knowledge you can positively identify real blueberries. Next time you go foraging, look for the signature blueberry bush, leaf, flower, and berry characteristics.
Watch out for lookalikes growing on vines, trees, large/thorny bushes, and with different leaf shapes or berry colors. When uncertain, consult field guides or berry experts to ID the plant.
With proper precautions, you can safely feast on wild blueberries and benefit from their amazing antioxidants and burst of flavor. Just steer clear of the toxic fakes. Bon appétit on your wild berry adventures!
Bethany is an experienced food writer and recipe developer whose popular site Grangefarmschool.org provides home cooks with approachable recipes, cooking tips, and practical kitchen advice. Her thoroughly-tested recipes and inviting photography aim to make cooking fun and fulfilling for cooks of all levels.