Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Rules for Having Poisonous Plants~

Ingesting Only One Castor Bean Seed Will Prove Fatal!
Pretty tho' Isn't She?

Plants have been source of fascination since the beginning of time. They have provided a plethora of benefits to mankind and use of them has evolved over many years. However as all gardeners know, there is a dark side to the plant kingdom and many common plants are extremely toxic causing complaints which range from indigestion, to hallucinogenic visions, and possibly even death. The science of using dangerous plants reached a zenith during Medieval times when dispatching an enemy was as simple as brewing a tea! Today, for the well being of children and animals, it is wise to know which common plants impose significant dangers.

Almost all flowering bulbs are toxic in some manner so do not ingest any of them. Many plants contain dangerous compounds which are removed by cooking. Our own Poke Weed, found in early spring, is toxic unless the leaves are prepared in a specific manner. The roots, leaves, and flowers of Taro, a wild Elephant Ear, are staple foods in some tropical countries, but they too must all be cooked before eating. Some plants have parts of them which are edible while other parts are toxic. The Rhubarb, used in flavorful jellies and pies, has poisonous leaves but the stalks are not.

The following plants are listed as fatal, making them of particular import. Bunny Rabbit flowers aside, the lovely Larkspur is so toxic that it was used during the Revolutionary War as a pesticide. Soldiers stuffed their boots with it to repel mites and ticks. Oddly, the green berries of the lovely and prolific Lantana are fatal in small doses as are those of the Wisteria, Jasmine and Mistletoe. All parts of the Azalea and Rhododendron plants are deadly as well. The popular house plant Dieffenbachia is called dumb cane for it’s affect on the mouth and throat if ingested. The instant swelling not only renders the individual dumb, but may cause air-blocking swelling.

Many toxic plants incur cult followings among ill informed youth. Used as a recreational drug due to hallucinogenic properties, the exotic Moon Flower made the news on a high school campus last fall as students chewed seeds in class. Salvia Divinorum contains a property which is a potent naturally occurring hallucinogen when smoked. The leaves were used in traditional spiritual practices by the Mazatec people of Mexico however due to it’s ‘popularity’ among non-native followers, it has been banned in twelve states including Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Delaware, North Dakota, Illinois, and Ohio.

There is a simple common sense rule to follow in dealing with the Plant Kingdom: Do not graze in the woods or garden, eating or smoking what abounds unless it is something that you know and recognize as healthful… it could make you ill or even prove fatal.


  1. Nice piece and you are absolutely right to say that knowing what's what is the way to sty out of trouble.

    Just one quibble, though.

    'Ingesting Only One Castor Bean Seed Will Prove Fatal!'

    I know that's often said but that doesn't make it so. Though I would not recommend that anyone should try it, swallowing a whole castor bean intact is very unlikely to produce any symptoms. Chewing it would release the ricin it contains but the most likely effect would be to produce vomiting and diarrhoea. In 1985, a paper was published showing that of 851 reported ingestions during the 20th century only 15 resulted in death.

  2. Thanks Poison. I err to the side of caution with ricin~ Since I don't use poisons in the garden, some of these little darlings scare the bejeebers out of me!

  3. I never fail to learn from your blogs. Thank you so much for sharing!