The American Beauty Berry shrub is well known in the Southeastern United States not only because of the lovely purple berries that clasp its stems in the early fall each year- but also because of its folklore use as an effective mosquito repellent.
American Beauty Berry is a member of the Lamiacae family (the mint family.) Its scientific name is Callicarpa americana. Callicarpa is a combination of two Greek words- kallos meaning "beautiful" and karpos meaning "fruit". (source)
The American Beauty Berry is an important plant for wildlife- deep into the winter many birds eat the berries as they are some of the last berries to be found in the wild. They are highly astringent- making them more unpalatable then other edible berries, therefore they are only eaten after all other sources are exhausted. (source).
There are conflicting sources on the internet regarding the edibility of this plant. A couple of postings on the Dave's Garden website indicated that some folks enjoy the taste of the berries- below are a couple of the postings:
I've tried them and thought they were good. They are sweet and some have a mild spicey flavor. They are not juicy like a blackberry and have a pulp that reminds me of a soft, mealy apple. I don't believe that they are poisonous because they didn't seem to have any negative effect on me for having eaten them. They grow wild and plentifully here in Tampa and produce a huge number of berries. I think that they are pretty. I'll harvest a bunch this fall and try to make some beautyberry wine.
I love this plant, its Berry's make a great jam & are delicious in pancakes. I found just 1 on my property, so I harvested the berries dried them & grew more plants from seed. I now have a hedge row of beautyberry bushes & I love it.
And one user noted the Beauty Berry's use as a mosquito repellent:
I have found that the berries and the leaves, when crushed in your hands, you can rub it on yourself as a fairly good mosquito deterent!! It dates back at least some 200 years as a mosquito repellent and branches of the plant were once used by farmers to keep mosquitoes and horse flies off the horse and cattle.
Scientists working out of the University of Mississippi have been studying the folklore attached to this plant's use as a mosquito repellent. Remarkably, it seems that this plant is being confirmed as being effective in warding off mosquitos and other biting insects:
According to an article in Science Daily, scientists have: confirmed that the natural remedy wards off biting insects, such as ticks, ants and mosquitoes: “I’ve rubbed the leaves on my arms, and it works,” Cantrell said.
“Traditional folklore remedies many times are found to lead nowhere following scientific research,” he continued. “The beautyberry plant and its ability to repel mosquitoes is an exception. We actually identified naturally occurring chemicals in the plant responsible for this activity." (source)
However, studies are on-going to determine the safety and toxicity of using the plant.
There were other folklore uses for this plant as well. The Alabama Indian tribe used a decoction of the roots and branches in a sweat bath for rheumatism and malarial fever. The Choctaw tribe used a decoction of the roots for dysentery, and a decoction of the roots and berries for colic. The Seminole tribe are documented using the plant for snake sickness and itchy skin. (Native American Ethnobotany; Moerman)