Archive for the ‘Poison’ Category

Possomhaw Holly – Ilex deciduas

Possumhaw Holly
Possumhaw Holly

O reader! hast thou ever stood to see
The Holly-tree?
The eye that contemplates it well perceives
Its glossy leaves
Ordered by an Intelligence so wise
As might confound the Atheist’s sophistries.


By Robert Southey (1774-1843)

 This native of low, wet woods can be found throughout the southeast United States. It is one of the deciduous hollies, meaning it loses its leaves come winter. It is state listed as Threatened in Florida. The largest specimen found to date is located in South Carolina. It measures 3 feet around, and 42 feet tall!


The berries are generally considered toxic to humans. The low level toxicity causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. But all manner of small mammals, songbirds, and gamebirds, as well as deer find parts of this bush good eating. The deer being the only one to eat the twigs; all the others find the berries to be a delicacy.


Because of those same berries it is often planted as a winter ornamental, and a wildlife attractant. The branches with the berries have been collected to use in Christmas decorations. The wood of this shrub is not considered useful due to its small size.


Hollies in general (including this one) were used by the Alabama Indians. They took the inner bark of the tree, made a decoction from it and applied this to the eyes.  

Carolina Nightshade – Solanum carolinense var. carolinense

Carolina Nightshade fruit
Carolina Nightshade fruit

This native of the southeast North America has spread to cover most of the United States. It is known to be weedy and invasive spreading through seeds and its underground rhizomes. It is extremely deep rooted, and if the entire root is not removed it will regrow being a perennial. Of the 44 states in which it grows, 7 of them have listed it as a Noxious weed…Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Iowa and Nevada. Even though this plant is list as a noxious weed it cannot be listed as invasive, since it is native of this land.


Another reason for the aversion to this plant is that all green parts, but especially the unripe berries carry an alkaloid (solanine) that is very toxic. It has been shown toxic to horses, cattle, sheep, and humans. The symptomology of poisoning is abdominal pain and may potentially cause circulatory and respiratory depression. If sufficient quantity of the plant is consumed it can be deadly.  Although the unripe berries are toxic, the ripe berries are consumed safely by pheasants, quail, prairie chickens and wild turkeys.


The fruits have also been consumed by humans safely although it is not recommended. In times past the ripe berries (after turning yellow) have been used in herbal medicine to treat epilepsy, and to work as a sedative and an anti-spasmodic. In fact the Genus name (Solanum) is taken from the Latin, meaning quieting! According to Foster & Duke (A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants Eastern and Central North America Volume 40: Peterson Field Guides) the berries have been use to treat epilepsy and pain, as a diuretic, antispasmodic, and aphrodisiac.


The Cherokee Indians used it in their Herbal medicine. Often referred to as the bull nettle, the ripe, yellow berries were used to treat nervous stress and as a mild sedative. It was also used for treating asthma, and all sorts of bronchial conditions. The Cherokee also used the crushed leaves mixed with sweet milk as a fly poison. In another use the root would be strung on a thread or piece of leather latigo and hung around a teething babies neck to easy the pain!

Mexican Rose – Portulaca grandiflora

Mexican Rose
Mexican Rose

Ode to Portulaca


Fleshy annuals, colors of the rainbow
Show faces serene, sparkling and steadfast
As they grow and gleam.
Each petal diminutive but stately
Holds firm in sunshine and droughts…


By Donald G. Harmande

This annual, succulent, flowering plant is native to South America, ranging from Argentina and Uruguay through southern Brazil. It found there on the hot dry plains. It is an escape in some areas of Europe. In 1828 American botanist W.J. Hooker embarked on a trip to the Rio Desaguardero in Bolivia, South America, there he was the first to describe this plant.

Its cousin the common Purslane has been grown for centuries for use as a potherb, but the Rose Moss or Mexican Rose has oxalates in the stems and leaves which cause issues on consumption. If properly prepared the oxalates effects (tingling and burning sensations in the mouth and throat) can be negated. The seeds, although very small, can be ground and added to soups or even cereals.

The ASPCA reports that these plants are toxic to cats, dogs and horses causing muscle weakness, depression, and diarrhea. The soluble calcium oxalates are the culprit here also!

In herbal medicine the entire plant is depurative (promoting cleansing). It has been used in the treatment of hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and swelling with pain of the pharynx. The fresh leaves can render a juice that has been utilized in the treatment of snake and insect bites, burns, scalds and eczema.

In the language of flowers the Moss Rose means “confession of love”.

Sago Palm – Cycas revoluta

Sago Palm
Sago Palm

The Sego, or King Sago Palm is native to Japan and China. It grows on hillsides in thickets on small islands on the Japanese chain of islands. They have a thick 2 foot diameter trunk that reproduces through offsets or suckers that grow at the base of the plant. There are several stands that are protected in nature now, but most of these palms grow in cultivation.


According to the ASPCA this plant is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. It is also highly toxic to humans! Cycasin (a toxic glycoside) may cause these symptoms with exposure: vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, seizures, liver failure, or hepatotoxicity characterized by icterus (jaundice), cirrhosis (scarring of the liver, and poor functioning), and ascites (fluid in the peritoneal cavity). The pet may appear bruised, have nose bleeds (epistaxis), melena (blood in the stool), hematochezia (bloody straining), and hemarthrosis (blood in the joints). This plant has great potential as a toxin with pets, as they find the flavor enticing. Every part of this palm has some Cycasin, but it is especially concentrated in the seeds.


Even though there is toxicity present in every part of the plant, it was still used for food and medicine. In folk medicine the leaves were used in the treatment of cancer and specifically hepatoma (liver cancer). The seeds were utilized to help rheumatism, and an extract was used to inhibit the growth of cancer tumors.


The seed is also eaten raw or cooked! The seed can be dried and ground to be added to rice which is fermented into date miso. The pith of the trunk is dried and powdered then utilized to make dumplings, which are very sustaining.


There are methods of treatment of this plant and its seeds that are very exacting to make it palatable and not toxic! To try and use this plant at home is ill advised!!

Yew – Taxus baccata


Old Yew, which graspest at the stones

That name the under-lying dead,

Thy fibres net the dreamless head,

Thy roots are wrapt about the bones.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This sacred tree of the Old World is native to all of Europe, northwest Africa, northern Iran and southwest Asia. It has been around through many of the earth’s climatic changes. Its population in the northern temperate zones was decimated due to its usefulness to man. Due to the high demand for this tree it was gone from Rome and Greece by the time of Christ and from most of Europe by the 17th century.

This tree has provided shelter, tools, weapons, and medicine for centuries. The leaves and bark were often carried in medicine bags. In 1021 Avicenna recorded the use of Yew in his Canon of Medicine for the use as a cardiac remedy. The leaves have been used internally in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, hiccup, indigestion, rheumatism, and epilepsy. Externally they have been used as a bath for rheumatism. A homeopathic remedy has been created from the berries and young shoots to treat cystitis, eruptions, headaches, heart and kidney problems, and rheumatism. Today Yew is being researched for it’s usefulness in treating cancer. Due to the increased demand we will have to be careful not to exterminate this useful tree.

Great care must be exercised in the use of Yew internally, as every part of the plant is toxic to humans and cattle except the red fleshy fruit that surrounds the seed. Toxic exposure to the alkaloid taxine causes a paralyzing effect on the heart!

Due to the toxicity, the only thing that is edible is that red, fleshy fruit, this is very sweet and gelatinous. Many people like the flavor but do not like the consistency or the stickiness. A suggestion that the bark may be consumed as a tea substitute is ill advised!

The wood of this tree has been used for it durability and resistant to water damage.  It has been used for cabinetry, spears, spikes, staves, and small hunting bows. But most famously it became known for making the English Long Bows of the Middle Ages which were noted for being able to fly over 600 yards easily. It had the longest range of any bow in Europe at that time. Also of note was the fact that the arrowheads were often coated with a poison made from the Yew.

This tree is associated with death and rebirth, but most notably with Hecate the Goddess of the Underworld. The tree was often planted in places people expected to be buried, and allowed to grow until that time; it also marked the grave site. Later the Christians adopted this practice and planted them frequently in their cemeteries, they reminded the visitors of eternal life through Christ, but they were also planted to keep the dead souls in their graves until Judgment Day. The ancient Celts made wreaths of Yew to dedicate to Hecate; and in Rome the black bulls that were to be sacrificed to her often wore a wreath of Yew.  The wood was often used to make magic wands, and runes.

Redstar Morning Glory – Ipomoea coccinea


This shining star should be the center attraction in any hummingbird garden. When the light hits the flowers just right the yellow star at its center lights up in a gorgeous display! It is one of the very few examples of a red morning glory, but be careful…it can run away with your garden if you are not careful. In the right situation this plant can become aggressive in its reach for the sun! It is a native of the eastern North America; running from Texas and Florida north to Michigan and Massachusetts. In Arizona and Arkansas it has been declared a noxious weed!


As with most members of this family, you need to be careful of ingesting the seeds. The seeds are believed to be highly toxic. Upon ingestion you will find they have hallucinatory properties which may cause distortion of sight and hearing! 


This small morning glory was first described in 1753 by Linnaeus who took a word meaning scarlet or red (coccinea) for its species name. The Genus name is taken from two words in the Greek language: ips – meaning worm, and homoios – which means resembling or looks like. These two Greek words combined refers to the worm like twining of the plants of this genus!


In the language of flowers the morning glory symbolizes affection, and truly the myth of Chien Niu and Chih Neu reflects that. In Chinese lore they were young people entrusted by God to care for water buffalo (Chien Niu) and seamstress duties (Chih Neu). When they fell in love they forgot their duties in the heavenly kingdom. As a result they were punished by being separated. The star shaped flower of the morning glory represents the one day a year that they may share their affection with one another!

Cacao – Theobroma cacao

Cacao leaf
Cacao leaf

I love chocolate, oh yes I do.

Eating chocolate is a must too.

I love chocolate, how about you?

They say dark chocolate is now good for you too.


By Nichole Kaci McKnight

‘Food of the Gods,’ the aphrodisiac of rulers and emperors, will only grow within a limited range. The tree must be planted within 20 degrees of the equator, with Hawaii being the only place in the US to grow it!

The tree was grown in Mexico, Central and South America for an extremely long time, pre-contact! The ancient races of people who lived there used chocolate as a form of currency, and found it so very valuable that only the ruling class could consume it! They also believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac. The earliest cocoa plantations were established in 600 AD, in the Yucatan, by the Mayans.

Chocolate was not introduced to Europe until 1502 on Columbus’s 4th voyage for Spain. What he brought back with him were the cacao beans (or seeds). At that time he related how to make the drink he had witnessed being consumed, which included chilies and was dyed red. This was the drink that Montezuma drank 50 goblets of daily!

The people of the Amazon basin have used cocoa butter for ages as a soothing rub for bruises. The fruit is used to treat depression, fatigue, weight gain, and reduced sex drive! In cosmetics the cocoa butter is also employed in treatments for rough or chafed skin, chapped lips, sore nipples, and fancy soaps.

The cocoa bean has up to 50% fat, when that is removed what is left is cocoa powder. This powder is used to make hot chocolate, chocolate candy, and all the other wonderfully, sinful chocolate delights. When boiled in milk, it has in the past been used as a very nutritious food for convalescing patients and invalids.

But beware! Chocolate is also a poison….pet dogs, cats, parrots, and even horses are very susceptible to poisoning from this human treat. Only 2 ounces of chocolate can cause death in smaller animals. The theobromine causes cardiac and central nervous system stimulation; early symptoms of poisoning include diarrhea, abdominal distention, restlessness, and vomiting! This may worsen with time to include hyperactivity, polyuria (abnormally large production of urine), ataxia (dysfunction of parts of the nervous system), tremors and seizures. When death does occur it is brought on by hyperthermia, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat, too fast or slow, etc). If your animal has consumed chocolate….get it at once to the vet!!


Note on above illustration: from Koehler’s Medicinal-Plants 1887 [Image in Public Domain]