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What are Berries?

By J. Beam
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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Simply put, a berry is a fleshy fruit. However, botanically speaking, it is defined as a fruit with a fleshy, edible pericarp, or fruit wall, that originates from a single piston and encases one or many seeds. In the botanical sense, a tomato is a berry and a strawberry is not. However, many fruits that are otherwise classified in botany are more widely accepted as berries my most people.

Examples of true berries are the grape, tomato, persimmon, papaya, and pomegranate. Though commonly considered to be berries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and boysenberries technically belong to different groups. To eliminate confusion, common speech and culinary use define a berry as any small, sweet or juicy fruit.

A berry-bearing plant is classified as bacciferous. The fruit is generally bright in color and contrasts with the green of the plant from which they grow. This is nature’s way of self-preservation, as the berries are attractive to animals, which in turn eat them, digest the fruit, and expel the seed elsewhere in their waste. Similarly, the berry is attractive to people, especially young children, though some are toxic to humans.

The holly, yew, and mistletoe are examples of bacciferous plants that yield poisonous berries. If children consume more than three to five from a holly or yew, they can become violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea. The best way to avoid having a child eat a poisonous berry is to become familiar with all plants growing around a home and warn children of eating things when they don’t know what they are.

From a culinary standpoint, berries of many kinds and classifications make excellent ingredients for pies and other baked goods. Their sweet flavor and fleshy texture works nicely in fruit pies, spreads, and toppings for ice cream, or as an additive to pancakes, muffins, and crepes. Many are good by themselves as a healthy snack. The most commonly consumed berries are strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, and they contain many vitamins and nutrients. Mid-summer is the ideal season for purchasing the ripest berries in supermarkets and farmers' markets.

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Discussion Comments

By SarahSon — On Nov 22, 2012

@LisaLou -- Yes, the color of the berries can be deceiving. Even though holly berries are tiny, they look like they would taste good because they are such a bright red color. They not only taste bad, but are also poisonous for you as well.

By LisaLou — On Nov 22, 2012

@Mykol -- If you love the taste of most berries, you would like pomegranate too. I have found that to eat the berry by itself it isn't as sweet as some berries, but is very good. It always tastes sweeter in juice for some reason.

One berry that isn't sweet at all, and I find almost bitter, is the mulberry. We had these trees around when I was growing up, and the dark purple berries always looked like they would taste so good.

The first time I put one in my mouth I was so disappointed! They also leave a big mess under the tree and if you get them on your clothes, the stain is hard to get out. My aunt would pick these and make mulberry pie with them, but I prefer something like strawberry or raspberry pie.

By Mykol — On Nov 21, 2012

I have noticed pomegranates increasing in popularity in recent years. A few years ago you rarely heard of this berry, but now you see it everywhere. I love pomegranate juice but have never tasted the berry by itself. What does it taste like?

By myharley — On Nov 20, 2012
I never realized that what is considered a true berry is so confusing. I have never referred to a tomato or a grape as a berry. I do know that berries are full of nutrition and antioxidants.

I have tons of black raspberry bushes that grow wild along the fence row of our property. They peak around the 4th of July every year, and I usually get three good weeks of berry picking.

I head out there early in the morning before it gets too hot. I am covered in clothes to avoid the prickly bushes and sprayed with insect repellent. My dog loves to go with me and she will eat the berries right off the bush!

I love to use these berries to make pies, jellies and cobblers. They also taste great on ice cream and cereal. I freeze the extra berries to use later on in the year, but am always disappointed when the season is over.

By cloudel — On Oct 22, 2012

Berries have few calories, and they are so good for you. Eating them as a snack can help you lose weight.

The average strawberry has around five calories. This is the berry that I eat most.

The best thing is that if you add them to desserts, you aren't adding many calories at all. Use them to top cakes instead of fattening frosting, or dip them in dark chocolate instead of eating a solid chocolate bar.

By seag47 — On Oct 21, 2012

@shell4life – You are right. Growing berries at home is so much better.

My neighbor has some blueberry bushes, and they yield large, juicy berries that taste nothing like the tiny ones I find at the grocery store. I used to put the little ones on my sweet cereal to disguise their sourness, but I can eat my neighbor's berries with no sugar at all.

In fact, I can sweeten my oatmeal just by adding some blueberries. I never thought I would be eating blueberries like they were sweet grapes, but I do now.

By shell4life — On Oct 20, 2012

Fresh berries from a bush in your own yard taste so much better than the kind you buy in big supermarkets. I don't know why, but somehow, they have so much more flavor and sweetness.

I have several blackberry bushes growing on the fence that surrounds my property. The berries they produce are very large, and when they have turned totally black, they are so sweet. I can eat them by the handful!

I've also noticed that the birds and insects love them. Some of the berries have been chewed on and remain on the vine. I avoid these.

By StarJo — On Oct 20, 2012

This article is very informative! I never knew that strawberries weren't actually considered berries, and I also had no clue that holly berries were poisonous.

I have two holly trees in my back yard, and the ground is currently covered in red berries. I will be cautious when my friends small children come over from now on. So far, none of them have tried to eat the berries, thankfully.

I'm also glad that my dogs are not interested in the berries. I think that they can sometimes tell when items in nature are bad for them.

By catapult43 — On Nov 25, 2008

annon 21845 - I am glad to hear that you are enjoying yew berries and staying healthy, but according to the National Safety Council, and Texas State Department of Health, yew berries are poisonous, not as poisonous though as the leaves of the plant.

Apparently eating them can be fatal, no symptoms, just death. I do not think i would want to take a chance, especially since we have an abundance of berries and fruits that we know are safe.

By anon21845 — On Nov 23, 2008

This is absolute tosh. Yew berries are not poisonous. The stones are but you spit them out. I've been eating them for years, sometimes up to 40 fat ripe berries at a time. They are sweet and tasty. As far as i can recall this is a documented fact.

By catapult43 — On Mar 18, 2008

Locally grown fresh berries are starting to fill the fruit stands. It is a great time to enjoy this sweet, healthy fruit. Eating them plain, or adding them to cereal, yogurt or even salads, is a great way to get all the health benefits of vitamin C, fiber, folate and others.

Dipping juicy, sweet strawberries in dark chocolate, yum, double benefit.

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