Bittersweet Nightshade and Acne

Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) is frequently confused with its more dangerous (and much rarer) relative, deadly nightshade, and the look-alike American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). It is a common climbing perennial indigenous to Europe and North America, with small purple flowers in midsummer followed by scarlet berries. The twigs and bark have a sweet taste followed by bitter—hence the name.1

Alkaloid Components Have Anti-Inflammatory and Antimicrobial Properties

Traditionally it has been given as an oral antidote for a number of skin conditions—including acne. Topical bittersweet nightshade is used as a natural herbal remedy for eczema, and may also be beneficial as an acne treatment. All nightshades are from the same plant group as tomatoes and potatoes, but bittersweet nightshade is not the same species as belladonna or henbane.2

Steroidal alkaloid components (e.g., solasodine and soladulcine) from bittersweet nightshade stems have anti-inflammatory, astringent, and antimicrobial properties.2 Because of these characteristics it is approved as a topical acne treatment by Germany's regulatory authority on herbal remedies, the German Commission E.3


Appropriate oral and topical use of bittersweet nightshade stems (not leaves or berries) is considered probably safe to non-pregnant adults. Oral intake of bittersweet nightshade is not recommended for children and pregnant or lactating women. In animal studies, oral administration of bittersweet nightshade's alkaloids was associated with birth defects, and insufficient data exists for topical use during pregnancy.2

Although there are no reported adverse interactions with other drugs, herbs, or foods, it should be noted that bittersweet nightshade also contains the alkaloid solanine, which has narcotic effects on the central nervous system (similar to deadly nightshade but weaker).1-2

Consuming unripe berries can cause lethal poisoning in children. Inappropriate oral use of nightshade (in both adults and children) can cause solanine poisoning, a serious and sometimes fatal condition.2

How to Use

Topical solution can be made at home by soaking 1-2 grams of the dried bittersweet stem in about eight ounces (250 mL) of boiling water for 10 minutes (cool before applying). Or try making an herbal tea by steeping 1-3 grams of the dried herb in five ounces of boiling water for up to 10 minutes and straining.2

A lethal dose is estimated at 200 berries.

  1. Andrews, Steve. Herbs of the Northern Shaman. s.l.: O Books, 2010. ISBN 1846943698, 9781846943690.
  2. Therapeutic Research Faculty. Bittersweet Nightshade Full Monograph. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. [Online] 2011. [Cited: January 18, 2011.]
  3. Reuter, Juliane, Merfort, Irmgard and Schempp, Christoph M. Am J Clin Dermatol. 11(4): Botanicals in Dermatology: An Evidence-Based Review. Medscape Today. [Online] 2010. [Cited: January 18, 2011.]
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