American beauty-berry most often grows 3-5 ft. tall and usually just as wide, It can reach 9 ft. in height in favorable soil and moisture conditions. It has long, arching branches and yellow-green fall foliage, but its most striking feature is the clusters of glossy, iridescent-purple fruit (sometimes white) which hug the branches at leaf axils in the fall and winter. Bark light brown on the older wood, reddish brown on younger wood. Bark smooth, with elongate, raised corky areas (lenticels); twigs round to 4 sided, covered with branched hairs visible under a l0x hand lens. Leaves in pairs or in threes, blades half as wide as long and up to 9 inches long, ovate to elliptic, pointed or blunt at the tip and tapered to the base; margins coarsely toothed except toward the base and near the tip, teeth pointed or rounded; lower surface of young leaves covered with branched hairs. Flowers small, pink, in dense clusters at the bases of the leaves, clusters usually not exceeding the leaf petioles. Fruit distinctly colored, rose pink or lavender pink, berrylike, about 1/4 inch long and 3/16 inch wide, in showy clusters, persisting after the leaves have fallen. The seeds and berries are important foods for many species of birds, particularly the Northern Bobwhite. Foliage is a favorite of White-tailed Deer.
American beautyberry berries become edible upon reaching full ripeness which usually occurs in late summer to early fall. They should be a dark purple/magenta color but not turning wrinkled and dry. These berries can be eaten raw and have a mild, slight medicinal flavor. To truly maximize the potential of these berries it is best to make jelly out of them. Combine 1.5 qts of berries with 1 qt. water, boil for 20 minutes and then strain out the solids. Add 4.5 cups of sugar and one envelop of Sure Jell to the liquid. Bring the liquid back up to boil for two minutes, skimming off any foam. Pour the hot jelly into sterilized jars and seal. The resulting jelly has a unique flavor which reminds me of rose petals and champagne. These berries can also be used to make wine. Being low in sugars it is best to combine American beautyberry fruit with something sweeter such as grapes or bananas, otherwise the resulting wine will be a bit weak and have an uncomplex flavor. Some people have reported stomach upset after eating beauty berries. Limit yourself to small servings until you know how your body will react Three different molecules having mosquito repellent properties have been found in the leaves. Testing by the US army shows these compounds are similar to DEET in their ability to repel mosquitoes but human toxicity has not been determined. I recommend rubbing crushed leaves on your clothing rather than directly onto bare skin. Also note, while effective against mosquitoes these three chemicals don't seem to repel wood ticks or chiggers.