Bittersweet Dreams – Eco-Horror

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I’d like to announce that my short story “Bittersweet Dreams” can be found in the eco-horror anthology Growing Concerns published by Chupa Cabra House and edited by Alex Hurst. It will be available to purchase January 15th.

As I stated above, the theme of this anthology is eco-horror, with a focus on plants. I had several ideas but in the end, one spoke louder than the others. My MC was very vocal, she talked me through her story and I wrote it in a day. Very rarely does that happen to me and when it does, it is bliss. Anyway, the idea was unlike the others I had because it didn’t involve an active malicious plant. It wasn’t a poisoned dryad or the tell-tale pumpkin plants I had been working on but it was about a 17-year-old girl babysitting her cousins and getting lost in the woods. She mistakenly ingests berries that she, at first thinks belongs to American highbush, a fruit that tastes a bit like cranberries from what I have read and are harmless. What she actually eats is a great big handful of bittersweet nightshade.

American Highbush Cranberry or viburnum trilobum
American Highbush Cranberry or viburnum trilobum

Research here was tricky. I found only two recorded instances of bittersweet nightshade poisoning, both were children and were fine since they had a small amount. Bittersweet nightshade gets its name from the fact that the berries are very bitter and children won’t eat anymore of the berries after that first taste. Side effects varied and were never really confirmed, ranging from an upset tummy to death. And there was a lot of debate on the subject of bittersweet’s toxicity. Some claimed that it was extremely toxic, and everything on the plant was dangerous to encounter while others were singing the praises of the plant’s medicinal abilities. So it was hard to pinpoint exactly what would happen to my MC, Claire. And in the end, I did the writer thing and used creative license, drawing on the darker aspects of the plant.

Bittersweet nightshade or solanum dulcamara, it’s an invasive species here in my neck of the woods. And often found along roadsides and ditches, not to mention our garden and at the base of our willow in the back yard. I remember when we first moved to our house and we planted a row of ornamental corn. In the autumn, my sister and I were admiring the corn, the pretty shades of brown and russet when we spied a vine of pretty purple flowers, star-shaped and with bright yellow centers. We contemplated picking them and putting them in a vase but a part of me spoke up and I said that I was uncomfortable picking something I didn’t recognize. I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be bittersweet nightshade.

Nightshade Trivia

  • The members of the nightshade family include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers among others.
  • The stems of the bittersweet nightshade has been approved by the German Commission E for the external use of chronic eczema. I’m still not touching the plant, though.
  • Members of the family of solanaceae or nightshade can be found on every continent but Antarctica.

Bittersweet Nightshade Side Effects

  • Gastrointestinitis
  • Dermatitis
  • Phyto-photosensitivity
  • Asthenia
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Vision changes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Respiratory depression
  • Death

As you can see there are many to chose from, but most people were pretty adamant that death is the least likely to happen because of the taste of the berries being so unappealing and the most one could expect was diarrhea and vomiting. One person put it colorfully like this: “It’ll clean you out at both ends.”

So that’s it, the research behind the tale. And I think the best way to end this post is with the awesome book trailer provided by Alex Hurst to whet your appetite. I know I’m very excited to read the stories in this anthology and feel very proud to be among the authors. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

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10 responses »

  1. This is such an interesting post, Melissa! I love reading the way the idea for your story came to you, and how you went about researching it. I’ve read that centuries ago, people considered the tomato poisonous. I wonder if that’s because it’s part of the nightshade family? Your story sounds awesome, and I can’t wait to read it!

  2. First of all, congratulations on the inclusion of your story in the anthology! Secondly, the story sounds intriguing from a reader’s perspective. I’m sure you’ll get quite a wonderful reaction to its inclusion (based on what I’ve read so far. Last but not least, all the info regarding bittersweet nightshade sounds amazing. How have I never heard of this?

    • Thank you, very much! 🙂 I never heard of or seen bittersweet nightshade until I was an adult. I had to look it up, and that’s when I discovered what it was. I was very close to picking them. The little purple flowers are quite pretty.

  3. Congratulations! Your story sounds really interesting! I’ve always been fascinated by nightshades (it’s such a cool name for a plant!) and thought most were deadly. Guess I was wrong!

  4. Awesome! Love the post, and thanks for sharing the trailer! 😀 Nightshade is such a classic poison; it will never get old.

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