Greenbrier is an evergreen vine that is tough to walk through and is hard to get rid of. It will grow in shrub-like stands, if nothing is around for it to grab hold of, or it will hang onto other plants or fences and take over, crowding out more desirable plants. The way this plant grows puts it in the classification of a parasite.
This plant is used by a lot of birds and animals for shelter, protection from predators and food; making it a valuable plant in the wild, but around the house it is considered a pest by most people. The vine is hard to break and the sharp thorns will cut deep if they grab you.
If you have a place that you can let it grow, the blue black berries of the greenbrier will attract a vast array of birds and mammals. Those are wild turkeys, pileated woodpeckers, gray catbirds, northern mocking birds, northern cardinals, morning doves, and many other birds but birds aren’t all that it attracts. It also draws mammals for protection and food. White-tail deer, raccoons, Virginia opossums, cotton tail rabbits, gray squirrels, and striped skunks are some of the animals that will feed on this plant use it for shelter. So you can see how the wild animals benefit from this plant and there are ways that people benefit from it as well.
This plant is edible and has medicinal value as well. The young shoots are quite tasty if cooked in butter, as you would asparagus (so I’ve read), and these sprouts, leaves and tendrils can be eaten in salads or cooked as you would spinach, if gathered while young and juicy. The roots, after washing good, drying and crushing into a fine powder, will make a mild jelly or if you choose, a substitute for gelatin. The powdered root stock can also be used to make cold drinks but will need to be sweetened to your taste and the root stock can also be mixed with flower, one to one, and used to thicken a stew.
American Indians not only ate greenbrier but also used it as medicine. They would rub sore muscles with the thorns to relieve the pain and to stop twitching muscles. A tea was made from the stems to treat rheumatism and stomach ailments. Wilted leaves were used to make a poultice to treat boils.
Science has confirmed the fact that greenbrier contains anti-inflammatory, estrogenic (activate female hormones), cholesterol-lowering, and anti-stress compounds. Some of these compounds have been copied and are used in medicine today.
Greenbrier is also known by several other names. It is called “Round leaf Greenbrier”, “Catbrier”, and “Sawbrier”. If you get caught in a patch of it you will know why it is called catbrier and sawbrier.
Greenbrier is a native plant that grows from Canada south to Florida and west to Texas and Oklahoma. It has a small yellowish green blossom on the vine from May to June and its blue black fruit can be seen from fall through winter, or until the wildlife has eaten it. This plant can be found around woods, thickets, woody areas and fence rows.