There are two beautyberry shrubs growing on our property, which we planted because they are such a beneficial plant native to the southeastern United States, including Texas. Commonly used in natives-focused landscaping (like ours), it also grows plentifully in the wild, mainly in forested environments. The shrub grows quickly (between 3-6 feet tall when mature), prefers partial shade, and thrives in a variety of different soil types. The flowers attract bees and butterflies for pollination in the spring, and the strikingly colored, electric purple berries that mature in the autumn are an excellent food for wildlife, including birds and mammals.
The plant also has significant medicinal properties. The bark is strongly antimicrobial (it has been used as a treatment for staph, salmonella, herpes and polio), antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and was used medicinally by native tribes for a variety of health issues. Beautyberry leaves are anti-fungal, and can be used as a natural insect repellent. I like to blend up the fresh green leaves with apple cider vinegar and witch hazel or alcohol, strain out the solids, then add some citronella essential oil to the resulting green liquid. Added to a spray bottle, this makes a highly effective natural bug repellent that’s not toxic to humans or the environment like DEET and other chemical repellents.
The botanical/scientific name for this species is Callicarpa americana, which is currently categorized within the mint family, Lamiaceae (but was previously in the verbena family, Verbenaceae). It expresses common traits of the mint family: square stems, opposite/paired leaves, and an aromatic scent. The bright purple berries grow in clusters along the leaf axils (where the leaves attach to the stems).
Our beautyberry shrubs are still fairly young, at only about 3 feet tall, yet they already produce an abundance of berries for their size and age. October is usually the best month for harvesting, and our berries seemed totally unphased by the first couple nights of light frost in early November. I harvested about 75% of the berries on our plants, leaving the rest for birds and animals (and for my 3-year-old to snack on), and ended up with about 1.5 cups of fruits after only about 10 minutes spent harvesting. If your beautyberry shrubs are larger, or you are harvesting from thickets of shrubs in the wild, you could get a considerably larger quantity of berries, even if you left the majority of the berries for wildlife!
After harvesting the berries, I spent a few minutes removing rotten (shriveled and black) berries, tiny stems, and those tiny spiders that seem to love hanging out on the plants. I didn’t obsess about removing everything, but ended up with a mostly clean batch for processing.
I added the berries to a medium saucepan, and covered them with purified water, which I brought to a boil and then reduced to a simmer for about 15-20 minutes. I turned off the heat and waited for it to cool before straining through a fine mesh strainer bag (like a nut milk bag or cheesecloth).
After straining out the liquid and squeezing as much as I could out of the solids, I ended up with about 1 cup of juice. This juice can then be used to make various recipes, and in previous years I have made jelly, which is a common way to use beautyberries. There are many excellent jelly recipes available online, made of just a few ingredients: beautyberry juice, lemon juice, sugar and pectin.
I wanted to try something new this year, so I decided to use the beautyberry juice as the base for a healthy gummy recipe! I love making gummies using gelatin from healthy, grass-fed cows, which is an excellent source of the amino acids glycine and proline, which are beneficial for gut health and building/repairing the collagen that makes up our skin and connective tissues (if the 8 essential amino acids are also present in adequate amounts).
Interestingly, the cooked and strained beautyberry juice is a dark, dull purple color, but can be miraculously transformed by adding even a small amount of lemon juice, as you can see in the above photo! I added some premade organic lemonade to my beautyberry juice, along with about a tablespoon of straight lemon juice, to bring the total liquid to a level 2 cups. I think apple juice would be an excellent alternative, but I didn’t have any on hand.
Then I added the room temperature liquid to a clean saucepan, along with 6 tablespoons of grass-fed gelatin (I used the Zint brand), then stirred the powder gently into the liquid with a fork. I waited 10 minutes for it to thicken, then turned the heat on high to get it warm, stirring often. As soon as it was pretty warm, but not too hot (which only took a couple minutes), I turned off the heat and added 1/2 cup sugar, stirring until everything was smooth and dissolved.
A variation, if you don’t have premade lemonade or apple juice, is to top off your 1 cup of beautyberry juice with 1/4 cup lemon juice, then add enough water to make 2 cups of liquid. If you use this variation, you will need to add 1 full cup of sugar instead of just 1/2 cup.
While it’s still warm, use a dropper to add the liquid into silicone gummy molds. I have these molds, which come with two droppers, but you can use any shape and size molds you have. Then let them sit on the counter for a few hours, or you can transfer the molds to the fridge after they have solidified enough to move them without spilling, which can take about an hour.
After they have fully solidified, you can pop them out of the molds and store them in a glass container in the refrigerator. They are best eaten within a week, which is no problem around here!
Beautyberry Gummies Recipe
- 1 cup beautyberry juice (instructions above)
- 1 cup additional liquid: either premade organic lemonade or apple juice plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice, OR 1/4 cup lemon juice and 3/4 cup purified water
- 6 tablespoons grass-fed beef gelatin
- 1/2 cup sugar (I used organic cane sugar) if your extra liquid is lemonade or apple juice, OR 1 cup sugar if your liquid was just water and lemon juice
Read further up for how to make the gummies, and enjoy!