Ethnobotanic: The roots, leaves and branches of the American beautyberry were used by the Alabama, Choctaw, Creek, Koasati, Seminole and other Native American tribes for various medicinal purposes. The roots, leaves and branches were made into a decoction that was used in sweat baths to treat both malarial fevers and rheumatism. The boiled plant parts were poured into a big pan that was placed near the patient inside a sweathouse. A similar decoction of the roots was used to treat dizziness and stomachaches. The roots of Callicarpa americana were boiled with roots from Rubus spp. to make an infusion to treat dysentery. The roots and berries were boiled and drunk to treat colic. The bark from the stems and roots was used to treat itchy skin. A tea from the root bark was taken to treat urine retention or “urine stopped-up sickness.”
Wildlife: The fruits of American beautyberry are an important food source for many species of birds including bobwhite quails, mockingbirds, robins, towhees, and brown thrashers. Animals that eat the fruit include armadillos, raccoons, wood rats, gray foxes, opossums, and white-tailed deer. The long-lasting fruits provide food for birds and animals well into the winter months when other food-sources are unavailable.
Other: Beautyberry shrubs are raised for their ornamental flowers as well as their colorful clusters of fruits.
American beautyberry is widely distributed throughout the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains, from Virginia to Florida and west to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. It also occurs in the West Indies [9,30]. It is cultivated in Hawaii .
The raw berries, while palatably sweet, are suitable for human consumption only in small amounts, because they are astringent; they are also used in jellies. The roots are used to make herbal tea. As a folk remedy it has been claimed that "fresh, crushed leaves of American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana . . . helped keep biting insects away from animals such as horses and mules." An isolated plant compound, callicarpenal, has reportedly been proven effective in tests as a mosquito repellent.
The berries ripen in September through October and are a favorite among wild bird species including cardinals, mockingbirds, finches, woodpeckers and more. Beautyberry is commonly planted in landscape designs to attract wildlife because of the food source the berries provide and the cover animals get from the shrub itself.[unreliable source?]
American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). Closeup photo taken 10-30-2008, North Carolina.
Plants with white berries are found in cultivation under the name Callicarpa americana var. lactea; not all authorities recognize this as a distinct variety (in the sense of the botanical rank below subspecies).