What is a Nannyberry?

R. Britton

A nannyberry, sweet viburnum, is a deciduous shrub which produces edible berries. It can be grown as a large shrub or a tree and is often used in large numbers as a hedge shrub. This species can reach heights of 20 feet (6 m) and produces lots of fragrant white flowers from late spring through to midsummer. As the flowers die back, lots of green berries form, which turn deep blue to black as they mature.

Once harvested, nannyberries will only stay fresh in the refrigerator for about three days.
Once harvested, nannyberries will only stay fresh in the refrigerator for about three days.

The berries of this species are edible and quite versatile. The fruit of the nannyberry can be eaten raw, stewed, or baked. Once harvested, the berries will only remain fresh in the refrigerator for about three days. These berries can be stored by freezing, canning, or drying.

Nannyberry can help relieve menstrual problems and the pain associated with it.
Nannyberry can help relieve menstrual problems and the pain associated with it.

Each small, oval berry contains one large, flat circular seed. The fruits of the nannyberry remain attached to the plant well into the winter months, long after all the leaves have fallen away. The flavor of the berries reportedly changes and deepens if they are left on the plant until after the first frosts.

All parts of the nannyberry have a long history of medicinal usage. This species was traditionally used to treat a wide variety of ailments. Infusions of the leaves of the nannyberry, as well as concoctions made from the seeds, berries, and bark, have been used to treat respiratory, digestive and menstrual problems as well as to relieve pain and reduce anxiety.

The nannyberry plant is commonly used to attract a variety of wildlife, including insects such as bees and butterflies, which feast on the flowers and nectar. Birds and foraging animals are also attracted to this species; they eat the fruits and seeds, which also helps to disperse the seeds for germination. Larger branches of mature plants have a tendency to bend downward and root when they touch the ground, thereby producing a new plant as another means of reproduction.

In the wild, large, sprawling nannyberry bushes can be found growing almost anywhere that there is nutrient rich soil and good drainage, including road verges, open grassland, and on the outskirts of wooded areas. Since it is a cultivated specimen, if the bottom growth is regularly removed, this plant can be grown as a tree. A fairly tolerant species, the nannyberry will grow in full sun to partial shade and copes very well in cold temperatures. It will not, however, tolerate water logging.

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Discussion Comments


@Markerrag -- if you happen to live in a part of the world where the nannyberry isn't common, there is a good alternative in the black haw viburnum bush. Those are found throughout North America.

It attracts the same types of butterflies, is as easy to maintain as the nannyberry and is -- for all intents and purposes -- a great substitute for butterfly gardens. The fact that it is a lot more common throughout the nation doesn't hurt, either.


As the article mentions, nannyberries will attract certain species of butterflies and, for that reason, they are popular in butterfly gardens where a variety of plants are grown for the purpose the name suggests. They are very easy to care for, too, but there is one problem with a nannyberry shrub -- it is native to the midwest and eastern United States and quite uncommon outside of those areas.

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