Turkey berry is a popular food and herbal remedy used in a variety of ancient folk medicine practices.

Although it’s very common throughout the world, many people wonder about its best uses and safety.

This article explores everything you need to know about turkey berry, including the science behind some of its most popular applications.

What is turkey berry?

Turkey berry is a type of spiny, flowering shrub that produces large clusters of yellow-green, pea-sized berries that can be used for a variety of culinary, horticultural, and medicinal purposes.

Scientifically known as Solanum torvum, it goes by many names and belongs to the nightshade family of plants (1).

Other common names for turkey berry include:

  • prickly nightshade
  • devil’s fig
  • shoo shoo bush
  • wild eggplant
  • pea eggplant
  • susumber

Turkey berry is a hearty plant that thrives in a variety of climates, but it grows best in sunny, temperate regions.

The plants spread easily, much like weeds. Hence, they can be found all over the world, including in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands (1).

Because turkey berry is so widespread, it’s unclear exactly where it first originated. However, many experts believe it’s probably native to Central and South America.

Summary

Turkey berry is a spiny shrub that produces small green berries that are used for a variety of culinary and medicinal purposes.

Potential health benefits

Turkey berry is used as both a food and herbal remedy for countless physical ailments, including high blood pressure, digestive issues, bacterial infections, and more.

Still, scientific research focusing on the medicinal properties of turkey berry is very limited.

That said, early evidence from test-tube and animal studies suggests that specific nutrients and plant compounds in turkey berry may be the driving force behind its many purported health benefits.

May prevent and treat anemia

Low iron is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies worldwide.

Iron deficiency anemia is a common condition that may develop as a result of inadequate iron intake. It’s associated with symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath (2).

Turkey berry is a particularly rich source of plant-based iron and often consumed to treat or prevent iron deficiency anemia.

Although turkey berry possesses a high concentration of iron, recent animal research indicates that it may not be well absorbed in the digestive tract. Thus, there’s no guarantee that adding turkey berry to your diet will dramatically improve your iron status (3).

Pairing foods that are high in vitamin C, such as strawberries, bell pepper, or citrus fruit, may help increase the absorption of iron from plant-based foods (4).

However, there’s no research available to indicate whether this method improves turkey berry’s ability to treat anemia.

May help lower blood pressure

In the United States, nearly 50% of adults have high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke (5).

Early research suggests that compounds in turkey berry may serve as a natural way to lower blood pressure.

Turkey berry is loaded with a variety of unique compounds, such as gallic acid and ferulic acid, which have demonstrated strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in test-tube studies (6, 7).

Moreover, one animal study found that turkey berry extract significantly reduced blood pressure in rats with high blood pressure (8).

Still, there are currently no studies available to determine whether turkey berry can help lower blood pressure in humans. Thus, no specific results can be guaranteed.

May promote healthy immune function

Test-tube studies have shown that turkey berry has potent antimicrobial properties that may promote healthy immune function in multiple ways.

One study observed that turkey berry may be effective against the herpes simplex virus (9).

Turkey berry’s antimicrobial properties have also been found to be useful for keeping wounds clean and helping heal cuts and ulcers (10).

Although this preliminary data is promising, more well-designed human studies are needed to determine whether turkey berry can be reliably used to promote healthy immune function in humans.

Summary

Early research suggests that turkey berry may help prevent anemia, lower blood pressure, and promote immunity, but more research is needed.

Safety precautions and possible side effects

All parts of the turkey berry plant, including its roots, stems, leaves, and fruit, are used for medicinal and culinary purposes throughout the world (1).

The fruit is often fried in oil or ghee and consumed whole, whereas the leaves, stems, and roots may be dried and consumed as a powder, tea, or tincture.

Although turkey berry is used frequently and generally considered safe, there’s a lack of strong data when it comes to assessing its precise dosage and the potential risk of side effects upon ingestion.

Turkey berry belongs to the same family of plants as nightshade vegetables, which includes potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.

Like other nightshades, turkey berry contains a class of compounds called glycoalkaloids. When consumed in large doses, glycoalkaloids can cause adverse digestive and neurological symptoms, such as nausea, stomach ache, diarrhea, dizziness, and confusion (11).

Turkey berry’s concentration of glycoalkaloids naturally declines as the plant matures. Thus, it’s thought to be safer to only consume fully ripe turkey berry fruit (11).

That said, certain people may be more sensitive to the effects of glycoalkaloids than others. If you have a history of difficulty digesting nightshades, turkey berry probably isn’t the best choice for you.

There isn’t robust scientific evidence regarding the safety of turkey berry among women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

However, it’s common practice in some countries, such as Ghana, for pregnant and breastfeeding women to consume raw turkey berry to improve iron status and promote lactation (12).

Yet, given the lack of research and fact that poisonous varieties may be indistinguishable from non-toxic berries, it’s best to consult your doctor prior to adding turkey berry to your diet — especially if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have any underlying medical conditions (11).

Summary

Turkey berry is generally safe for most people. However, it contains a potentially toxic substance that could make you sick if you ingest too much.

The bottom line

Turkey berry is a popular plant used all over the world for its unique nutritional and medicinal properties. It belongs to the same family of plants as some other common vegetables like eggplant, tomato, and peppers.

Turkey berry is used to treat a wide range of illnesses, including high blood pressure, wounds, anemia, and bacterial and viral infections. However, modern research supporting its efficacy for these purposes is mostly limited to test-tube and animal studies.

Most people can safely consume turkey berry, but it’s important to make sure it’s ripe before you consume it, as unripe turkey berry can cause negative neurological and digestive symptoms.

Given the lack of research, you should consult your healthcare provider prior to adding turkey berry to your health and wellness routine, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions.