It is a dangerous world out there. From the obvious – a pandemic raging out of control – to a subtle, and attractive but poisonous purple plant, we live in scary times.

Bittersweet nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, is a beautiful yet deadly plant and has both blooms and berries now. The gorgeous purple and yellow flowers attract attention and, interestingly, always face a different direction than the leaves which face the sun. The berries, which start green, change to orange and then to red, appear candy-like, tempting many.

Bees are drawn to those striking flowers but are tricked because the flowers contain no nectar for them. The pollen is hidden inside the nectar-less flower and the vibration of the bee’s buzzing around the bloom shakes the pollen loose onto their bodies. For most wild birds and mammals, a tasty snack of those berries causes no harm.

Livestock, pets and people should beware, however, as consumption can be dangerous. Though not as harmful as deadly nightshade, or belladonna, a relative known for its lethality, bittersweet nightshade can cause serious trouble. Any ingestion requires a call to the poison control center since even as little as three berries can cause trouble for children according to one resource. Other sources note that it takes around 200 berries to cause mortality in adults. So no bittersweet nightshade berry smoothies, pies or consumption of any sort.

Used externally, this plant has historically-provided remedies. Its scientific prefix, Solanum, is interpreted in some sources to mean “I ease” or comfort, speaking to the medicinal qualities and sedative effects of the plants in this genus. Another alias, felonwood or felonwort, explains its use to treat felons – not criminals, but a painful inflammation, also known as whitlow – around the nail bed of the fingers or toes caused by the herpes virus.

An old remedy suggests that “the berries of bittersweet stamped with rusty bacon, applied to the joints of the finger that is troubled with a felon hath been found by divers country people who are most subject thereto to be very successful for the curing of the same.” And 18th-century farmers were known to use it to relieve a similar problem in cows. “Apply to swellings in cow bags. Physicians of distinguished characters say that the root answer as valuable a purpose, in venereal cases.”

Beyond medicine for the body, bittersweet nightshade provides security for the soul and spirit. Believing it effective against witchcraft, folks hung it around cattle’s necks to protect them from “the evil eye.” Humans would be safeguarded from the same if they put some on their doors. For broken hearts, a satchel of dried leaves under the pillow healed the emotions from the romantic failure.

An invasive plant from Europe, Asia and Africa, bittersweet nightshade has gotten a foothold in this country with birds spreading it widely and it is now ubiquitous in yards and waste places.

There are some things we can do to be safe in these trying times – wash our hands often, wear a mask, don’t gather in large groups, give each other space – and don’t eat bittersweet nightshade.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.