16 Common Poisonous Plants You Should Be Aware Of
BLOODROOT (Sanguinaria canadensis)
This is a very strong medicinal plant that can easily be misused. Reputed to have wart- and cancer-removing properties, the juice of the root has been used either directly or in creams and ointments to supposedly heal difficult skin issues. But the compounds in this plant can also aggravate normal skin, so application has to be directly on the afflicted area. Internally it is an emetic, purgative, expectorant, stimulant and diaphoretic. In toothpaste and mouth rinses it has helped prevent cavities and destroy plaque. Use judiciously.
Ranunculus is a family of plants that include Buttercup and Crowsfoot. If you make yourself a wildflower bouquet with the pretty Buttercups, remember they are also used as a powerful treatment for skin diseases. Contains anemoninic acid, an effective antifungal, also has anti-tumor properties. Crowsfoot is the taller version that has a less-showy flower and has often been mistaken for “wild” Cannabis due to its size and pointy leaves. This plant also has strong compounds and should not be ingested or inhaled.
CELANDINE (Chelidonium majus)
In the Poppy family CELANDINE is another plant that can be used for difficult skin problems but should not be used on healthy skin. It is a lovely, bushy plant that is often not destroyed in the winter, surviving well under a blanket of snow and becoming immediately green in early spring, its bright yellow flowers being one of the first blooms of the year. It is said to work on warts and cancers. Use the plant juice carefully or mix the extract into a cream base. This is not a poisonous plant; however it should be used with understanding, awareness and respect. Internally is has been used to soften gallstones and rejuvenate the liver.
COW PARSNIP (Heracleum maximum)
This is the tallest plant in the Celery and Carrot family, along with Angelica and Poison Hemlock, since they can all ready upwards of 6 feet in the sun with their giant, lacy, white, umbel flower heads and large, fuzzy leaves. The juice of this plant can make some people’s skin light sensitive. Only one out of 50,000 people are affected. It can give you a sunburn where the juice is brushed.
COW PARSNIP is actually an edible plant. I have cut young stalks and filled them with seasoned cream cheese or nut butter or hummus for a unique appetizer. I have also used it like celery in small pieces in stews and stir-fries. It is a pungent plant and should be used with discretion. The ground dried seeds can be added to seasoning blends.
JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT (Arisaema atrorubens)
Leave this plant alone if you happen to stumble on it in the wild; it is very rare. Contains calcium oxalate crystals, a physical and chemical toxin.
JAPANESE KNOTWEED (Fallopia japonica)
This is not an indigenous plant. It was brought over for erosion control and is now taking over. Its rhizomes are hard to eradicate. It has a large, reddish-tinged stalk (high in oxalic acid), with large leaves and tassels of small white flowers with an exotic odor. This is actually an edible plant that can be picked and prepared like Asparagus, the heat from steaming or roasting it will kill the oxalic acid and make it a delectable side-dish. Or cut into pieces and add to dishes with other vegetables.
This plant is reputed to have the highest amounts of anti-oxidants of any plant on the planet. Just don’t eat it raw.
POISON HEMLOCK (Conium maculatum)
These poisonous plants are some of the first to appear in the Spring on the sides of the roads, or along river banks, looking deliciously fresh and juicy, with an even deeper shade of emerald green than parsley or cilantro. It just begs you to pick it.
Don’t. Don’t even touch it. And certainly don’t put it in your mouth. The compounds from poisonous plants can be absorbed through your skin if you get the juice on yourself. Poison Hemlock has compounds that are toxic to the liver. The root is especially toxic.
Besides its attractive greenery, delicate, cream-colored, umbel-shaped blossoms surround a 6 foot, purple stem that will catch your eye. Be aware of it and you will see how pervasive it has become. Unlike Queen Anne’s Lace, another plant in the Celery and Carrot Family many people are familiar with that is totally edible and grows in dry fields, Poison Hemlock likes moist environments. Side by side these two cousins are very different in appearance and in the environments they tend to grow in.
Socrates was said to have killed himself using a tincture of the root of Poison Hemlock. This plant should command your respect and you should introduce your children to it as well. It is an annual plant and reseeds itself. It can be eradicated by pulling it out with gloves on. Be careful if you burn it that you don’t breathe the smoke. This plant has a place in the ecosystem. Recognize it and deal with it appropriately.
POISON IVY (Toxicodendron radicans)
The juice of this plant can cause itchy, blistering skin due to a compound called Urushiol, one of the most noxious compounds on the planet. Learn to identify it and stay away from it. Pull it out with gloves in the early spring or late fall. Do not breathe the smoke if you burn it.
Use judiciously. This is the strongest lymph cleansing herb. Large roots are stronger and can detoxify too quickly. Use small young roots to tincture or use berries. If eating berries start with one for a while and monitor your body. Drink lots of water. Poke is called “poisonous” because it can detoxify the body more quickly than the digestive system can handle, so detoxification may be taken over by the skin and lungs, the secondary organs of elimination. One seems to be experiencing skin eruptions and irritating coughs in the body’s attempt to get rid of the toxins that are being broken loose by the compounds in pokeweed.
Pick young shoots and steam or sauté. Do not eat older stems or leaves, especially not raw. They are high in oxalic acid that can rob the body of Vitamin B, as the reddish color belies. A tincture of the young roots and ripe berries can stimulate the lymphatic system. Respect its power; don’t overdo it.
SKUNK CABBAGE (Symplocarpus foetidus)
Just because it says “cabbage” doesn’t mean you can eat it. This plant has a very strong smell that should keep you away. Even though Native Americans used it for respiratory problems, Skunk Cabbage contains acrid compounds that can irritate the throat. It should not be taken internally or breathed.
WHITE SNAKEROOT (Ageratina altissima)
Bright white lacy bunches of small star-like clusters in late summer. Has noxious compounds; don’t ingest.
WINGSTEM (Verbesina alternifolia)
This is a plant in the Senecio family that can easily reach 6 feet in height. Its stems have “wings” going up on 3 sides. Many yellow, bee-hypnotizing flowers develop in the summer and into the Fall. They grow in groups and are difficult to eradicate. When you try to pull them out the stem breaks off and leaves the root behind. The root is like a Medusa head with many snaky root fingers coming off the main bulb that hold the plant securely in the soil.
Doesn’t mind rocky and waste places, endures dry, lack of sun, likes drainage on the sides of hills. Poisonous if ingested; use gloves when removing. Dig up if you really want to get rid of it. Most plants in the Senecio family are poisonous.
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