Introduction and description
In everyday language, a berry is a small, pulpy and often edible fruit. Berries are usually juicy, rounded, brightly coloured, sweet or sour, and do not have a stone. Instead, many pips or seeds may be present.
The creation of this entry enables us to both provide a list of berries on the site and thus a sort of launching pad for more information, but also to enable more general observations that provide summarised berry properties to be listed.
In scientific terminology, a botanical berry is a fruit produced from the ovary of a single flower in which the outer layer of the ovary wall develops into an edible fleshy portion (botanically the pericarp). The definition includes many fruits that are not commonly known as berries, such as grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants (aubergines) and bananas. Fruits excluded by the botanical definition include strawberries and raspberries. A plant bearing berries is said to be bacciferous or baccate.
The scientific definition is not going to be used, as we wish to home in on medicinal and nutrition related objectives, thus the first definition is the one we will use.
In this context, we need to look at what a berry is and how a plant functions.
The function of berries
From the plant's point of view a berry is its means to spread its seed. Many plants producing berries are bushes or perennial plants and thus their existence is not in danger, so it is not the means by which its survival is obtained.
In general, plants that wish to guarantee their survival and are annuals or short lived perennials tend to use seed, because seed is easily scattered from the plant and being small enters the ground relatively easily. It only takes a few disturbances from animals and the seed is buried and the plant's existence is ensured. In this case the seed is given all the nutrients it needs to survive but not much more. It is not made attractive to birds unless the seed can survive the bird's digestive system.
In contrast, a bush or perennial plant has the objective of making sure any seed is taken away from the bush or plant so that it does not end up being a competitor for the nutrients and the space where the plant is. A plant cannot up roots and move away from competition, all it can do is make sure the competition is either deterred or is not its own progeny.
And so a bush or perennial plant produces berries. The berries are often sweet and thus attractive to a wide range of foragers - animals and birds. Usually they are only sweet when the seed inside is viable, they may even be poisonous when not ripe, to make sure predators are put off eating unripe fruit. The tomato is actually a very good example of this, as green tomatoes are mildly poisonous [see description].
The fruit is also usually highly nutritious, encouraging foragers to eat it knowing that they are getting minerals, vitamins and amino acids in abundance.
The seed in contrast is almost impenetrable by the forager's intestinal tract and often shoots straight through an animal's system, to be deposited in a nice layer of manure - ideal growing conditions. I can remember one friend of mine, whose father bought some processed sewerage farm compost for his roses - human poo processed in other words. The next year, along with marvellous roses he also had a very impressive crop of tomatoes.
What else does the plant do with a berry?
Many of the plants producing berries also lace the berry with anti-virals, anti-bacterials and anti-fungals, often in great abundance. In a sense this is a sort of symbiotic relationship of superb design.
'If you eat my fruit then move away from me to a different part of the countryside and poo over there, you have guaranteed the safe transit of my offspring. I will, in turn help you by keeping you well nourished and free of pathogens'.
A good deal if ever there was one.
And we, being animals, are part of this cycle, the problem being that we don't poo away from the plant we poo into toilets and the plant's progeny die - a cruel trick if ever there was one!
No wonder the fairies are crying [I jest - or maybe I don't].
In order that you have an example to see the activity, we have selected the strawberry and used a small proportion of the chemicals in the fruit to demonstrate
Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases - Chemicals and their Biological Activities in: Fragaria spp (Rosaceae) – Strawberry EXTRACT
ALPHA-LINOLENIC-ACID Fruit 780 - 9,253 ppm - essential fatty acid
ARGININE Fruit 260 - 3,084 ppm – amino acid
ARSENIC Fruit: essential mineral in trace amounts
ASCORBIC-ACID Fruit 400 - 6,948 ppm Vitamin C
BETA-CAROTENE Fruit 0.089 - 7 ppm Vitamin A
BORON Fruit 1 - 160 ppm mineral
CAFFEIC-ACID Fruit 15 - 34 ppm example activities - Analgesic; Antiadenoviral; Antiaggregant; Antiaging; Antibacterial; Antidepressant; Antiescherichic; Antiflu; Antiherpetic; AntiHIV; AntiLegionella; Antiseptic; Antistaphylococcic; Antivaccinia; Antiviral ; Fungicide; Metal-Chelator; Sedative; Vulnerary
CALCIUM Fruit 135 - 2,900 ppm mineral
CATECHIN Fruit: - example activities Antibacterial; Antiflu; Antihepatitic; Antiherpetic; Antileukemic; Antiviral; Fungicide
CATECHOL Fruit: - example activities Antiseptic; Antiviral
CHLOROGENIC-ACID Fruit: example activities Antibacterial; AntiEBV; Antiherpetic; AntiHIV; AntiLegionella; Antipolio; Antiviral; Fungicide; Metal-Chelator; Vulnerary
CHROMIUM Fruit 0.005 - 0.18 ppm mineral
Just in these small number of chemicals - from a list of over 30, you can see that there is extensive anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and chelating activity in a strawberry.
Berries on the site
Here are the links to take you to the detailed entry for each berry where the specific nutrients and activities of each can be found:
- Acai berries
- Apple - a fruit with berry like properties - seeds and not a stone
- Barberry [berberis]
- Black currants
- Chili peppers - called variously a fruit or vegetable, but with seeds a sort of berry
- Goji berries [wolfberries]
- Juniper berries
- Kiwi fruit
- Lemons - called a fruit but closer to a berry
- Limes - ditto
- Melons - called a fruit, but closer to a berry
- Papayas - called a fruit but closer to a berry
- Passion fruit - difficult to classify, closer to a berry
- Pears - a fruit with berry like properties - seeds and not a stone
- Pomegranates - ditto
- Red currants
- Red peppers
- Rose hips
- Soursop - called a fruit, closer to a berry as it has seeds and not a stone
- Star fruit - ditto
- Strawberry guava
- Berries and cancer 005363
- Berries and health 005359
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- Dietary Strategies for the Treatment of Cadmium and Lead Toxicity - 07 Conclusions and perspectives 016846
- Dietary Strategies for the Treatment of Cadmium and Lead Toxicity - 041 Table 3 016843
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Metal chelating ability from FERULIC ACID - PART 2 018254
- Effects of dietary polyphenols on metabolic syndrome features in humans: a systematic review 021219
- Fortified extract of red berry, Ginkgo biloba, and white willow bark in experimental early diabetic retinopathy 020529
- Prevention and treatment of alopecia areata with quercetin 027899
- The Polymeal: a more natural, safer, and probably tastier (than the Polypill) strategy to reduce cardiovascular disease by more than 75% 020830