The image, the film, the texts, the tradition have made us know about pests and we are not used to associate them with our daily life.
But … dangerous plants?
They are all around us, in our apartment or garden, in our meadows or forests, with their black or red berries, decorative and… often poisonous.
The word “poisonous” comes from the Greek word for “poison to poison the arrow”.
And we know that a decoction of hemlock was fatal to Socrates.
The most pleasing flowers and plants to the eye are not the least dangerous, and a child used to eating gooseberries and blueberries may one day confuse harmful berries with these familiar fruits.
Here’s a list and “photo ID” of your main enemies in this area to help you recognize them.
In your apartment or garden
Yew: beware of the red balls it bears at the end of summer. The pulp itself is harmless, but the seed in the centre of the fruit is very poisonous, as is the leaf and the rind.
The laburnum: dangerous for its green pods, which a child may mistake for peas.
Arums: several species of aroidaceae are dangerous, in particular the spotted arum and the dieffenbachia. Chewing their leaves and even their contact with the skin can cause trouble.
Oleander and cherry laurel: the former is poisonous in all its parts, the latter also bears tempting berries.
At home or near you, beware of garden lupins, honeysuckle, charcoal, wisteria and even Christmas mistletoe.
During your walks
The verrater: it was once known as hellebore and was believed to cure madness. It contains dangerous alkaloids and can be confused with the great gentian with which excellent aperitifs are made.
The spotted hemlock and the hemlock vireuse: the latter caused the death, in 1984, of a walker who had confused it with watercress.
Wolfbane: its nickname of vegetable arsenic is a good indication that we should be wary of it.
Among the other plants at risk that you may encounter: foxglove, bryonia or “devil’s turnip”, columbine, henbane, henbane, spotted arum and mistletoe, already mentioned…
Allergies and epidemics
While each of us has experience of stings and rashes due to contact with nettles, less is known about the fact that some latex, especially ficus and euphorbia, can irritate the skin and eyes. Allergy-prone people may experience similar inconveniences with seemingly harmless plants.
While out for a walk, beware of spring pollens that give hay fever and inconvenience asthmatics.
Pollens from mimosa and Landes pine are particularly to be feared.
In the forests, sick animals sometimes stain edible berries. Several cases of serious parasitosis have been reported after eating blueberries and wild strawberries contaminated by foxes that are themselves parasitized.
Finally, the consumption of raw wild watercress can lead to another serious parasitosis, distomatosis. known as liver fluke.
Plants that kill, plants that save
Can we talk about “health through plants” after having made the – non-limitative – list of plants at risk? Certainly: see “plants in capsules”.
For a long time, people in the countryside took care of the “simples” and this practice is still rooted in some parts of rural France.
Today, many medicines sold in pharmacies are based on plant extracts.
The plants that kill and the plants that save are often the same. Digitalis, extracted from foxglove, is a known heart tonic, atropine, from belladonna, is an antispasmodic, quinine, sovereign against fever, comes from cinchona. But an excessive dose of digitalis can kill.
And strychnine, extracted from a tropical plant, can stimulate the human nervous system … or poison it. It’s a matter of dosage.
Medicinal plants, even in herbal tea, are not harmless. According to the traditional formula, do not use them for prolonged treatment without medical advice.
What to do?
Prevention: keep toddlers under constant surveillance, don’t leave them near a plant, near a branch that they could grab. Very quickly, teach your children not to touch plants, herbs and berries.
Prevent them from chewing on any stem, leaf or flower.
Watch them closely if they pick strawberries, raspberries or blueberries in the forest.
Avoid picking or handling wild plants yourself.
Adapt your picking activity to your botanical knowledge.
Care: always think of poisoning when a child – or an adult – has an inexplicable discomfort and presents symptoms that leave you helpless.
The first thing to do in case of intoxication is to induce vomiting.
Do not give anything to drink: neither water nor milk: a doctor and a poison control centre (tel.: 01 40 37 04 04) will be alerted as soon as possible. If possible, keep the elements allowing the identification of the plant, berry or fruit presumed responsible for the illness.