Partridge Berry (mitchella repens)

This delicate-looking evergreen vine with bright red, dimpled berries can be found creeping over woodland floors in eastern and central North America. In late spring, the vines produce pairs of white or pinkish tubular flowers that are fused together at their bases. The fruits, which persist through winter, are a favorite of ruffed grouse, bobwhite, and other wildlife. Also called squaw vine, the herb has long been used by Native American women to alleviate menstrual problems and ease childbirth.

Partridge Berry

Plant profile

Common Names: Partridge Berry, Squaw Vine, Twinberry

Description: Creeping evergreen perennial with small, rounded leaves; tubular pinkish white flowers in pairs, fused at their bases; scarlet berries have two small indentations

Hardiness: To Zone 4

Family: Rubiaceae

Flowering: Late spring to early summer

Parts Used: Fruit, leaves, and stems

Habitat/Range: Native to eastern and central North America; woodlands, slopes, and stream banks

Culinary use

The fruits have a slight wintergreen flavor and can be used in jams; frost is said to improve their flavor. Native Americans dried the raw, mashed, or cooked fruits and stored them for later eating. The Iroquois prepared them as a sauce or added them to corn bread.

Medicinal use

Partridge berry contains alkaloids, glycosides, mucilage, and tannins. Native American women made a tea from the leaves and fruit of this herb to treat menstrual pain and cramps, to regulate menstrual cycles and relieve heavy bleeding, and to induce childbirth and ease delivery. Lactating women used a salve made from the herb to soothe sore nipples.

Native Americans also used the plant for urinary and intestinal disorders, fever, joint pain, and swelling. European settlers adapted the Native American uses, and some modern herbal practitioners still use it in similar ways. In addition, the fruits have been used to make a sedative tea and an astringent skin wash.

Caution: Do not use this herb if you are pregnant or nursing unless you are under the care of a health professional.

How to grow it

Partridge berry thrives in fertile, acidic soil and partial shade. Try growing this woodland native as a low-maintenance groundcover beneath evergreen trees or acid-loving shrubs, such as azaleas, where the plants will not be disturbed. Water during dry spells. Harvest the leaves and stems from late spring through early summer. If you wish to use the berries, harvest them when they ripen (turning bright red) in midsummer to fall. Propagate by softwood cuttings.