That was a line that my mother and grandmother drilled into my head when I was a little kid. If the birds don’t eat it, it’s bad, or poison, or rotten, or going to make you sick as a dog!
This was relevant to my childhood because I grew up in the dead of the country in northern New Jersey. Yes folks, before hideous Route 80 came through we lived in such a remote part of the state that I went to an eight-room schoolhouse that shared a teacher for first and second grade!
Anyway, when you live in country like that, there are multitudes of wild berries, mushrooms, fruits, etc., that you had better know not to eat or you were spending time with the porcelain god or worse yet, getting your stomach pumped at the hospital if didn’t happen to die first. So I was always aware of the flora and fauna around our neighborhood in Meriden, CT.
Now this isn’t exactly what I would call “the woods.” No sir. This was inner city living! This was the Victorian house that took up most of the property with its enormous footprint and had a few trees that were annoying to have to rake leaves for in the fall. But there was one tree on my property that always confused me. It was a tree that had very weird leaves and grew berries that looked like oversized blackberries.
And NO BIRD WOULD EAT THE BERRIES!!!
Warning! Danger! Don’t Touch… Let alone eat these things.
I know that my husband and I should have looked into this tree to find out how to get rid of it, but the kids were so little and weren’t allowed outside without our supervision, that we both sort of just forgot about the tree that dropped all these purple berries and made a mess of the yard and our rear driveway until the day my six-year old came in with her sister from playing in the back yard with purples juice stains all over the front of her shirt and all over her face! As a matter of fact, all the kids that were playing in my back yard had the same purples stains all over them!
“What did you eat? Did you get juice from Karen’s house?”
We had one of those fantastic neighborhoods where every kid felt comfortable going to neighbor’s houses to ask for a drink. So I didn’t think much of it until she uttered…
“No mommy… the berries from the tree are good!”
Oh God! Not another bout with Poison Control!!!
All I could see was the entire neighborhood of elementary school children winding up in the ER at MidState Hospital!
Now I’m panicked. What the hell are those berries? What the hell is that tree? Why hadn’t I looked into this before? Because you had three kids in four years stupid! Who had time to check out the tree????
So, I’m an artist. I grab a leaf and a berry and I start to grab the Encyclopedia (I know, those don’t even exist in the beautiful hard bound covered books that we used to have) and tried to look for any leaf or berry that looked like these! No luck! All I can see is all these kids dying from the tree in my back yard! And then I though of UConn’s Agricultural School in Rocky Hill, CT!
At this point in my life my office was still in the attic. Oh yes ladies, really classy office. But I had a fax machine. No cell phones in those days! And I sent the drawings up to the school. I called and pleaded with the people to help me because I had at least eight kids who were purple!
At first they couldn’t give me an answer, but then, after an agonizing wait, one young gentleman said….
“It’s a mutated Mulberry Tree! It’s harmless.”
OMG! I was shaking by this point!
Freaking Mulberries! Eat all you want you kids!
After the adrenaline rush wore off and I was able to settle down, I called all my neighbors to inform them that their kids had gotten into a perfectly harmless, wait…. Pretty healthy fruit tree, but they were going to have to buy a lot of bleach to get the stains out of their kid’s clothing.
I informed the entire neighborhood that they could come and pick the berries (which are more sweet than the tart blackberry) and eat all they wanted! This turned out to be a win-win situation. My year was leaner, the tree wasn’t cut down, and all the children who ate the berries had regular bowel movements!
Who could ask for more!