Ripe poroporo berries are a delight to eat and to make jam from, writes Sue Scheele.
Poroporo, a member of the nightshade family, is a common plant of disturbed habitats, bush margins and clearings, and regularly appears after fires.
The soft-wooded shrub is usually regarded as a weed, especially when it pops up in urban gardens. I think it’s a delightful plant, with its deeply-lobed leaves, purple flowers and bright orange berries that look like miniature tamarillos.
The green, unripe berries are poisonous and acrid. However, the orange berries, fully ripe to the point where the skins burst, are pleasant to eat. This can occur at any time of year but is most common in summer and autumn. Early pakeha settlers used them for jam-making.
The leaves can be pounded and pulped and used as a salve on itchy skin or to treat sores. Or you can boil up young leaves and shoots and dab the reddish-yellow liquid onto irritated skin. Either treatment has a cooling effect.
Note: Don’t confuse this plant with the introduced white-flowered Jerusalem cherry, which has dark green, lance-shaped leaves. The ripe, round, orange/red berries (think jaffas) are toxic.
– Sue Scheele is a LandCare Research ethnobotanist