Poisonous Herbs

A report in the newspapers in June 1990, highlighted the phototoxic effects of rue (Ruta graveolens) on the skin. The highly responsible article referred to a case where children playing with the flowers of plants in the garden on a hot, sunny day had broken out in painful blisters and brown stains. Doctors were baffled until the mother of one of the children took cuttings of the plants they had been playing with to the hospital. Now, some years on, there need be no more ignorance on the part of doctors regarding hazardous plants, as the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew have developed a system called PLATO (PLant Toxins — UK) which provides information at the press of a button on all poisonous and hazardous plants in the United Kingdom.
Before you go rushing out into your garden to tear out your rue, and any other hazardous plant, it is worth considering the true dangers of hazardous herbs. Certainly, not all herbs are ’safe’: but very few are life threatening, and most of them are growing in the wild.
Responsible organizations such as the Herb Trade Association police the labeling of their plants, and herbs such as rue are clearly labeled at the retailers with warnings about the effects they may have on some people. The fact that rue does not affect all types of skin is valid just as medicinal herbs do not necessarily work in the same way for every individual, then so it is with hazardous plants. Poisonous plants, however, do affect everyone in exactly the same way — and they are dangerous.
If you are in the habit of picking wild berries, or making tisanes from wild plants, it is as well to identify your plants very carefully. The umbelliferal family in particular is a minefield when it comes to poisons. Goutweed, wild angelica, hedge parsley, cow parsnip and sea carrot have a striking similarity to fools parsley, wild chervil, hemlock and hemlock water dropwort. These last four plants are extremely dangerous. The Henbane, Hyoscyanms niger, grows in sandy, waste places, very often near the sea. It is so toxic that its use in medicine is now severely restricted. The effect of henbane on the nervous system can be deadly. The fetid smell of this downy plant gives some indication of its poisonous nature.
Poisonous herbs include Aconite, Black bryony, Buttercup, Columbine, Baneberry, Deadly nightshade, Fool’s parsley, Foxglove, Dog’s mercury, Hemlock, Hemlock water dropwort, Henbane, Ivy, Laburnum, Meadow saffron, Mistletoe, Spindle tree, White bryony, Black nightshade, and Yew.
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