Partridge berry is an evergreen trailing vine which stays close to the ground as it weaves its way over the roots of hemlocks and other conifers. I have seen it growing in the shade of mature forests in acidic soils, often near streams, from Florida to New England. It takes its sweet time, growing slowly but often forms a solid carpet on the forest floor.
Botanically it possesses some unique characteristics. One of its names is Twin berry which alludes to its paired little white flowers joined at their base (they have a fused calyx) which mature into one berry! If you look closely the telltale sign is left on the berry – two little dots or “eyes” which are the scars left by the corollas (petals) from each flower. Partridge berry is a member of the madder or coffee family (the Rubiaceae).
This sweet unassuming plant is a joy to see in the winter when little else is green. Its red berry is edible but it is not sweet, and in fact has little flavor. The fruit can brighten up salads and make a fun trail side nibble, and is easy for little people to gather and gobble. Note the photo of Ruby munching up Partridge berries this fall.
Partridge berry, known to herbalists as Mitchella, has been used by Native peoples as herbal medicine for thousands of generations. Everything we know about this plant comes from the indigenous people of the areas now known as the U.S. and Canada. The above ground parts (leaves and stems) are used for medicine. It is a uterine tonic, astringent and diuretic. It has been used internally for edema, urinary and kidney disorders, and topically as a mild haemostatic. The Cherokee have used it as a diaphoretic (increases sweating) and diuretic and to cure dysentery. In addition they used it for painful menstruation, sore nipples and to facilitate childbirth. Women use it for preventing miscarriage and premature labor and as a partus preparator (the term used for herbs taken a couple weeks to a month before child birth to prepare the womb for its upcoming work). One of its first names was squaw vine as early Europeans observed Native women using this herb in preparation for and during childbirth. Squaw vine usually goes by Partridge berry these days as the word squaw has been used in a derogatory way by many Europeans and is considered to be insulting by most Native women.
I have a strong respect for Mitchella as it has helped my pregnancy as well as other women’s. While I was in my early pregnancy with my daughter Ruby I was experiencing strong cramping and heavy bleeding. I used a tincture made of Wild Yam root (Dioscorea quaternata), Black haw root bark (Viburnum prunifolium) and Partridge berry herb (Mitchella repens) in equal parts 3-6 times a day. These herbal allies, along with bed rest, and Ruby’s feisty spirit, saved her pregnancy!
A woman in her sixth month of pregnancy experiencing a lot of stress in her home life asked me to help her with the strong contractions she was feeling. Her emotional situation had intensified the usual “practice” contractions typically felt in later pregnancy and she was concerned. I recommended a tincture of equal parts Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) and Mitchella repens. She took 2-3 droppers full three times a day and her contractions subsided.
Mitchella is also indicated in early pregnancy for women who have experienced multiple miscarriages or are facing a potential miscarriage. The dosage in this situation, and most others, would be 2-3 droppers full of tincture three times a day. A tea from the dried herb may also be drunk.
Partridge berry does grow slowly in specific conditions so please take care when harvesting her for medicine. Taking only growing tips, and leaving some of the vine rooted in the soil allows it to re-grow. Only gather this Mitchella where it is growing abundantly.
Seeing Ruby eat the fruit from a plant which helped her come into this world fills me with gratitude for all the gifts plants offer us. Give thanks to this sweet little powerful vine adorning our forest floor!