white baneberry


Actaea (baneberry or bugbane) is a genus of flowering plants belonging to the family Ranunculaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

The genus is closely related to Cimicifuga and Souliea, and many botanists include those genera within Actaea (e.g. Compton et al. 1998, Compton & Culham 2002, Gao et al. 2006, RHS Plant Finder, 2007) based on combined evidence from DNA sequence data, similarity in biochemical constituents and on morphology; if included, the number of species in Actaea rises to 25-30. Other botanists (e.g. Hoffman 1999, Wang et al. 1999, Lee & Park 2004) reject this merger because only one group (Actaea) have fleshy fruit while the remainder have dry fruit. The genus is treated here in its narrow sense, comprising four to eight species.Selected species

The name Actaea alba (L.) Mill. is a confused one (Fernald 1940); although described as an American species (now named A. pachypoda), the illustration on which the description was based was actually a picture of the European A. spicata, and strictly, the name is therefore a synonym of the European species. Some texts however still treat A. pachypoda under this name.

Actaea is recorded as a food plant for the larva of the Dot Moth.

Use and toxicity

Baneberry contains cardiogenic toxins than can have an immediate sedative affect on human cardiac muscle tissue. The berries are the most poisonous part of the plant (hence the name baneberry). Ingestion of the berries can lead to cardiac arrest and death. The berries are harmless to birds, the plant's primary seed disperser. Actaea species are closely related to plants in the genus Aconitum, a highly toxic plant genus which contains wolfbane and several varieties of monkshood.

The root of Actaea rubra was used medicinally by Native Americans and has a long history of use as a strong alternative to Black Cohosh, (Cimicifuga racemosa), for menstrual cramping and menopausal discomfort. The roots of Actaea rubra contain β-sitosterol glucoside. HI


  • Compton, J. A., Culham, A. & Jury, S. L. (1998). Reclassification of Actaea to include Cimicifuga and Souliea (Ranunculaceae): Phylogeny inferred from morphology, nrDNA ITS, and cpDNA trnL-F sequence variation. Taxon 47: 593–634.
  • Compton, JA & Culham, A., 2002. Phylogeny and circumscription of tribe Actaeeae (Ranunculaceae). Syst. Bot., 27(3): 502-511
  • Fernald, M. L. 1940. What is Actaea alba? Rhodora 42: 260-265.
  • Gao, J-C., Zhang, J-C., Lu, Z-J, Zhu G-Y, Yang, M-S & Xiao, P-G, 2006. Chemical constituents of Actaea asiatica Hara and their anti-osteoporosis activities Biochemical Systematics and Ecology, 34(9): 710-713
  • Hoffman, M. H. 1999. The phylogeny of Actaea (Ranunculaceae): a biogeographical approach. Pl. Syst. Evol. 216: 251–263.
  • Lee, H.-W. & Park, C.-W. (2004). New Taxa of Cimicifuga (Ranunculaceae) from Korea and the United States. Novon 14: 180–184 (available online (pdf file)
  • RHS Plant Finder http://www.rhs.org.uk/rhsplantfinder/plantfinder.asp
  • Wang, W. T., Li, L.-Q. & Wang, Z. (1999). Notulae de Ran-unculaceis Sinensibus XXIII. Acta Phytotax. Sin. 37: 209–219.
  • Germplasm Resources Information Network: Actaea (treats genus in broad sense)
  • Flora of China: Actaea (treats genus in narrow sense)
  • Flora of North America: Actaea (treats genus in narrow sense)
  • Edible and Medicinal plants of the West, Gregory L. Tilford, ISBN 0-87842-359-1

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