Poisonous plants

What do they look like?

Below, we list some of Britain’s deadliest plants. 

Foxgloves

This beautiful flower, known as foxglove or digitalis purpurea, grows wild and in many a British garden. The commonest colour, usually seen in the wild, is purple. It is in the top ten list of the commonest causes of accidental poisoning in the UK. Half of all accidental poisonings in the UK happen to children under five, so please teach your children not to touch this plant. 

Digitalis is a very fast-acting poison and causes the heart to beat very rapidly, then slow down. There may be convulsions and wild hallucinations accompanied by intense abdominal pain. A few deaths occur each year from this poison. 

Yew

This beautiful tree produces red berries which may look rather like redcurrants, but are highly poisonous. Yew is also among the most dangerous toxic plants in Britain, and it can kill by making the heart stop beating.

Birds eat yew berries as part of their natural diet, so please teach your children that seeing animals eat fruits does not mean they are safe for people, or for other types of animal. Yew berries kill dogs and horses as well as humans. NEVER to pick and eat any berries in the countryside.

 

Chrysanthemums

Although generally found in gardens, many people do not realise that chrysanthemums can be toxic, as they are sometimes used to make herbal tea. It is important to know which part of the plant to use and which varieties are safe. NEVER pick chrysanthemums for herbal tea, unless you are an expert.

 

Deadly nightshade

Although from the same plant family as tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers, this particular strain of nightshade which grows wild in Britain is, as the name says, deadly. A number of indigenous nightshade varieties produce lethal berries and toxic leaves in Britain and Europe.

DID YOU KNOW? Being from the nightshade plant family, Europeans were extremely sceptical about eating tomatoes when they first came across them, convinced that they too would cause death. They avoided them for 200 years. Tomato plant stalks and leaves are, indeed, deadly. The fruit, which Europeans used to call “poison apples”, was adopted as a food in Europe when an adventurous Neapolitan thought of using it to revolutionise his pizzas in the 19th century. 

 

Hemlock Water Dropwort

The berries of this plant are a fast-acting poison which kills. You should avoid even touching any part of this plant because of its highly toxic nature.

DID YOU KNOW? In Ancient Greece, this plant was used to carry out the death sentence upon condemned criminals. It was made into a drink. It was famously used to kill the Greek philosopher Socrates.

 

Snowdrops

These beautiful winter flowers, often found in forests and green verges in January and February, are extremely poisonous.

 

Mistletoe

Mistletoe at Christmas has a legendary reputation for romance but it is also widely considered to be as dangerous as it is festive.

This epiphyte attaches itself to trees without actually feeding off them parasitically.

Keep mistletoe out of reach of children and pets. Whilst it can be used for decoration, it is not suitable to eat as most parts of the plant can be toxic, particularly the berries.

DID YOU KNOW? Among the ancient Celts, mistletoe was a symbol of peace and friendship – the forerunner of the white flag. 

 

Daffodil bulbs

Daffodil leaves and flowers are not poisonous but their bulbs, which resemble onions, are deadly if consumed. Never dig up or taste anything which you think is an onion in the wild. 

 

Berries

Many kinds of wild berries which grow in Britain are poisonous, either to humans, to pets, or both. Teach your children NEVER to eat any wild berries they see growing in the countryside. 

 

Why are they dangerous?

Over 1,000 people in Britain die each year from accidental poisoning, and the plants listed above are responsible for some of those deaths. 

Around 75% of the plants in the countryside or in an average English garden are toxic to some extent. Most of them are only mildly toxic and can cause rashes, tummy aches and/or vomiting, which are not deadly but are extremely unpleasant. However, a few plants can be very dangerous. Their leaves, berries, flowers, fruit, sap or bulbs can poison you, either by making you ill after eating them (as is the case with daffodil bulbs) or giving you a skin rash after touching them. There is a higher likelihood of death in elderly people. 

Some plants, which will cause stomach aches for humans, can actually kill dogs, cats or other animals, so do make sure you watch your pets when enjoying the great outdoors.

How can I avoid them?

Remind children not to eat anything from the garden, unless you have said it is OK.

When picking and eating wild mushrooms and berries, such as blackberries and elderberries, be absolutely sure that they are safe.

Never eat anything you have harvested from the wild unless you are certain of what it is, beyond any shadow of doubt. 

What to do if I or my child accidentally eats them?

  • Always call an ambulance or take the patient to hospital immediately, if anyone has accidentally swallowed something that could poisonous, even if you are not certain. 
  • If anyone shows symptoms such as tummy ache, vomiting, rashes or diarrhoea after playing outside, take them to an A&E department immediately.
  • Take a sample of what they’ve eaten with you, if possible.
  • DO NOT GIVE ANYTHING TO TRY TO “NEUTRALISE” THE POISON. 
  • DO NOT TRY TO MAKE THE PATIENT VOMIT. Medical staff know how to do this safely, if it is necessary. 

Further information

National Poisons Information Service leaflet – Keep your child safe in the garden

NHS Choices – Accidental poisoning

St. John’s Ambulance – swallowed poisons first aid advice


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *