12 Lecture 09-01-2014 Poisonous Plants 1

Treat unknown plants with respect, and teach your children to do the same.
Many plants are poisonous to varying degrees.
Many plant poisons are either alkaloids or steroids,
a potential source of drugs or commercial poisons for use as
insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.
Use of plant poisons in the capital punishment –
well known from the story:
death of Greek Philosopher Socratessentenced to drink the juice of poison hemlock
Conium maculatum.
Plants cannot escape their predators-need
protection from herbivores.
Some have physical defenses:- thorns, prickles,
hairs, bristles.
BUT most common protection is chemicals.
Natural selection has produced many chemical
compounds to keep away herbivores-during
thousands of years.
Tannins- emerged relatively early in the
evolutionary history of plants.
More complex molecules-Polyacetylenes are
found in younger groups of plants
like Asterales.
Consumption of such plants may produce
negative effects-mild discomfort to death.
Same poisonous compounds may be of
medicinal value.
Many unanswered questions about
this chemical defence system..
Questions include:
(1)Which plants have which type of defenses?
(2)Which herbivores are the plants defended
(3)What are the chemical structures of the
compounds that provide defense?
(4)What are the potential medical uses of these
An active area of research with
important implications in the field of
medicinal chemistry.
Human fatalities caused by poisonous
Poisonous Food Plants
Many food plants toxic unless processed, or
are toxic at certain stages of their life.
Apple (Malus domestica)-Seeds mildly poisonous,
a cyanogenic glycoside.
Quantity contained usually not enough to be
dangerous to humans, but if enough seeds
ingested can prove fatal.
Cassava (Manihot esculenta)
Roots +Leaves contain 2 cyanogenic glucosides;
by linamarase-a naturally occurring enzyme in
cassava, liberating HCN.
Sweet or Bitter Varieties signify absence or
presence of toxic levels of cyanogenic glucosides.
‘Sweet' cv can produce 20 mg of CN/kg of fresh
roots-bitter ones produce more 1 g/kg.
Toxin very high in drought conditions.
40 mg of pure cassava cyanogenic glucoside
sufficient to kill a cow.
Causes severe calcific “Pancreatitis” in humanschronic (inflammation of pancreas).
Processing (soaking, cooking, fermentation) of
roots necessary to remove the toxins & avoid
getting sick.
"Low-level CN exposure associated with the
development of goiter & tropical ataxic
neuropathy-a nerve damaging disorder;
renders a person unsteady & uncoordinated.
Severe CN poisoning-associated with
outbreaks of a debilitating, irreversible
paralytic disorder called KONZO -in some
cases death.
•Incidence of KONZO & Tropical Ataxic
Neuropathy can be as high as 3 % in some areas.
•For smaller-rooted sweet varieties-cooking
sufficient to eliminate all toxicity.
•CN is carried away in the processing water.
•Larger-rooted, bitter var. used for production of
flour or starch must be processed to remove
cyanogenic glucosides.
•Industrial production of cassava flour, even
at the cottage level, may generate enough
CN & cyanogenic glycosides in the effluents
to have a severe environmental impact.
•Cherry (Prunus cerasus), + other Prunus species
-peach (P. persica), plum (P. domestica), almond (P.
dulcis), & apricot (P. armeniaca)-Leaves + seeds
contain Cyanogenic Glycosides.
Indian pea (Lathyrus sativus)
•Legume from Asia & East Africa –
insurance crop for use during famines.
•Produces a high-protein seed.
• Seeds contain variable amounts of ODAP
(β-N-Oxalyl-L-α,β- diaminopropionic acid)
a neurotoxic amino acid.
• ODAP causes paralysis if eaten over a
long period.
•Considered as the cause of disease
a neurodegenerative disease –causes
paralysis of the lower body &
emaciation(weight loss) of
gluteal muscle.
•Disease seen to occur
after famines in Europe (France, Spain,
Germany), North Africa & South Asia.
•Still prevalent in Eritrea, Ethiopia
& parts of Afghanistan
if Lathyrus seed exclusive or main
source of nutrients for long.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
-Contains Myristicin - a naturally
occurring insecticide & acaricide with possible
neurotoxic effects on neuroblastoma cells.
•Psychoactive properties at doses much higher
than used in cooking.
•Raw produces anticholinergic-like symptoms,
attributed to myristicin & elemicin (a
•Myristicin intoxication causes
condition between
waking - dreaming;
euphoria is reported,
nausea often experienced.
•Users report bloodshot eyes –
memory disturbances.
•Induces hallucinogenic effects like
visual distortions.
•Intoxication peak reachingmay take 7 hours,
effects can be felt for 24 hours,
with lingering
effects lasting up to 72 hours.
Kidney bean or common bean
(Phaseolus vulgaris)
• Toxic compound phytohaemagglutinin
(a lectin) -in many varieties of common bean
especially red kidney beans.
•Lectin - number of effects on cell metabolism.
•Induces mitosis, affects cell membrane
transport & permeability to proteins.
•Primary symptoms of poisoning-nausea,
vomiting, diarrhea
•Onset from 1 - 3 hours after
consumption of improperly
prepared beans, symptoms typically
resolve within a few hours.
•]Consumption of as few as 4 or 5
raw kidney beans sufficient
to trigger symptoms.
•Phytohaemagglutinin can be
deactivated by cooking beans at
100 °C for 10 minutes- (degrades toxin).
•For dry beans initial soak of at least
5 hours in water required;
the soaking water is discarded.
•Lower cooking temperatures may
have the paradoxical effect of
potentiating the toxic effect of
•Beans cooked at 80 °C are
reported to be up 5 times as toxic
as raw beans.
•Outbreaks of poisoning associated with
the use of slow cookers, the low cooking
temperatures-unable to degrade
the toxin.
Lima bean or butter bean
(Phaseolus lunatus)
• Raw beans contain dangerous amounts
of linamarin, a cyanogenic glucoside.
Lupin - Some varieties have edible seeds
•Sweet Lupins – less toxic alkaloids
lupinine & sparteine; Bitter have more.
Onions and Garlic.
• Alliums- contain thiosulphate,
in high doses
toxic to dogs, cats + other livestock.
Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Contain toxic compounds called
Glyco-alkaloids most prevalent solanine & chaconine.
Solanine found also in Atropa belladonna
("deadly nightshade") &
Hyoscyamus niger ("henbane").
Concentration of glycoalkaloid in wild
potatoes suffices to produce toxic effects
in humans.
Toxin affects - nervous system,
causing headaches, diarrhea, intense
digestive disturbances, cramps, weakness
& confusion, in severe cases coma /
Poisoning from cultivated potatoes very rare -toxic
compounds in general concentrated in the green
portions & fruits, cultivated potato varieties contain
lower toxin levels.
Cooking at high temperatures (over 170 °C) partly
destroys the toxin.
Exposure to light, physical damage & age increase
glycoalkaloid content within the tuber, highest
concentrations occurring just underneath the
•Tubers exposed to light turn green from
chlorophyll synthesis-a visual clue to areas of the
tuber that may have become more toxic.
•Not a definite guide, as greening & glycoalkaloid
accumulation can occur independently of each other.
•Some potato cv contain greater glycoalkaloid
concentrations than others; breeders developing new
varieties test for this, and sometimes have to discard an
otherwise promising cv.
•Breeders keep solanine levels below 200 mg/kg.
•If commercial varieties turn green-they can
approach concentrations of solanine of
1000 mg/kg.
•Americans consume 12.5 mg/day of solanine
from potatoes (toxic dose actually several times
this, depending on body weight).
•No reported cases of potato-source solanine
poisoning, and most cases involved eating green
potatoes or drinking potato-leaf tea.
Rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum)
•Petioles edible-leaves contain notable quantities
of oxalic acid- a Nephrotoxic & corrosive acidpresent in many plants.
•Symptoms of poisoning-kidney disorders,
convulsions & coma, Rarely fatal.
•LD50 (median lethal dose) for pure oxalic acid is
about 25 grams for a 65 kg human.
Oxalic acid content in leaves varies.
Typical value ± 0.5%- if 5 kg of extremely sour
leaves consumed - reach an LD50 of oxalic acid.
Cooking leaves with soda can make them more
poisonous by producing soluble oxalates.
Leaves are believed to also contain an
unidentified toxin- might be an anthraquinone
glycoside (also called senna glycosides).
In petioles-amount of oxalic acid much
lower;about 2-2.5% of the total acidity
which is dominated by malic acid.
Even raw stalks may not be hazardous.
Tart taste of raw stalks is so strong as to
be unpalatable to many.
Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum).
Leaves + stems contain solanine -toxic if
ingested, causing digestive upset & nervous
Use of tomato leaves as a tea (tisane) has
been responsible for at least 1 death.
Green unripe fruits also contain small
amounts of the poisonous alkaloid
tomatine-levels generally too small to be
Ripe tomatoes do not contain any
detectable tomatine.
Plants can be toxic to dogs if they eat
large amounts or chew plant material.
Abrus precatorius
(known commonly as jequirity, crab's
eye, rosary pea, 'John Crow' bead, precatory bean, Indian
licorice, akar saga, giddee giddee, jumbie bead, ruti, and weather
Attractive seeds (usually about the size of a
ladybug, glossy red with one black dot)
contain abrin-related to ricin, & very potent.
Poisoning Symptoms:
nausea, vomiting, convulsions, liver
failure, & death, usually after several days.
Seeds used as beads in jewelry-dangerous;
inhaled dust is toxic and pinpricks can be
Seeds attractive to children BUT ingesting
a single seed can kill an adult human.
Aconitum (Several species, commonly called aconite,
and monkshood)
All parts poisonous-an alkaloid called aconitine,
which disables nerves, lowers blood pressure,
and can stop the heart.
Even casual skin contact should be avoided;
symptoms include numbness, tingling, &
cardiac irregularity.
Used as poison for bullets (by Germany in
WWII), as bait + arrow poison (ancient Greece),
to poison water supplies.
If ingested-usually causes burning, tingling,
numbness in the mouth, followed by vomiting
and nervous excitement.
A quick-acting poison-used in the past for
killing wolves.
Actaea pachypoda (also known as doll's eyes or white baneberry).
All parts poisonous-especially the berries, the
consumption has sedative effect on cardiac muscle
tissue and can cause cardiac arrest.
Adenium obesum (also known as sabi star, kudu or desert-rose)
Exudes a highly toxic sap -used by the Meridian
High & Hadza in Tanzania to coat arrow-tips for
Aesculus hippocastanum (commonly known as horse-chestnut)
All plant parts poisonous-causing nausea, muscle
twitches, and sometimes paralysis.
African sumac – see Rhus lancia.
Juice of a number of species causes acute
contact dermatitis, with blistering lasting
several weeks & recurring itching for several
years thereafter.
Ageratina altissima (commonly known as white snakeroot).
All parts poisonous, causing nausea - vomiting.
Often fatal.
Milk from cattle that have eaten white
snakeroot can sicken, or kill, humans (milk
Agrostemma githago (common name
corn cockle)
Contains saponins githagin & agrostemmic acid.
All plant parts poisonous - may produce chronic or
acute, potentially fatal poisoning.
Used in folk medicine to treat a range of ills, from
parasites to cancer .
No known recent clinical studies of corn cockle which
provide a basis for dosage recommendations, however
doses higher than 3 g [of seeds] are considered toxic.
Aquilegia (also known as columbine).
Several species.
Seeds & roots contain cardiogenic toxins
-cause both severe gastroenteritis & heart
palpitations if consumed.
Flowers of various species consumed in
moderation by Native Americans as
a condiment with other fresh greens-very
sweet, and safe if consumed in small
Native Americans also used very small
amounts of the root as an effective
treatment for ulcers.
Medical use of this plant difficult due to
its high toxicity; columbine poisonings
are easily fatal.
Areca catechu (commonly known as betel nut palm and pinyang).
Contains an alkaloid related to nicotine addictive.
Produces a mild high, some stimulation, and lots
of red saliva, which cannot be swallowed as it
causes nausea.
Withdrawal causes headache & sweats.
Use correlated with mouth cancer, to a lesser
extent asthma and heart disease.
Arum maculatum (commonly known as cuckoo-pint, lords and
ladies, jack in the pulpit, wake robin, wild arum, devils and angels, cows
and bulls, Adam and Eve, bobbins and starch-root
All parts of the plant can produce allergic
Bright red berries contain oxalates -can
cause skin, mouth + throat irritation,
resulting in swelling, burning pain, breathing
difficulties & stomach upset.
Most common causes of plant poisoning.
Asparagus The berries
Atropa belladonna
are poisonous.
nightshade, belladonna, devil's cherry and dwale, an Anglo-Saxon term meaning
stupifying drink
One of the most toxic plant - in the Western
All parts contain tropane alkaloids.
Active agents - atropine, hyoscine (scopolamine),
& hyoscyamine,with anticholinergic properties.
Symptoms of poisoning :dilated pupils,
sensitivity to light,
blurred vision,
loss of balance,
dry mouth and throat,
slurred speech,
urinary retention,
constipation, confusion, hallucinations, delirium, and
Root generally most toxic part, but can vary
from one specimen to another.
Ingestion of a single leaf of the plant can be
fatal to an adult.
Casual contact with the leaves can cause skin
Berries pose greatest danger to children-look
attractive and have a somewhat sweet taste.
Consumption of 2 -5 berries by
children and 10-20 by adults can be
2009-case of A. belladonna mistaken
for blueberries, with 6 berries ingested
by an adult woman, was documented
to result in severe anticholinergic
Plant's deadly symptoms caused by
the parasympathetic nervous system.
Regulates involuntary activities such as
sweating, breathing, and heart rate.
is physostigmine or pilocarpine.
A. belladonna also toxic to many domestic animals,
causing narcosis and paralysis.
Cattle and rabbits eat the plant seemingly without
suffering harmful effects.
Anticholinergic properties will cause disruption of
cognitive capacities like memory & learning in
Colchicum autumnale-Autumn crocus.
Solanum dulcamara-Bittersweet nightshade.
Helleborus niger-Black hellebore .
Robinia pseudoacacia & Robinia-Black locust
Black nightshade – Solanum nigrum.
Bleeding heart – Dicentra cucullaria.
Blind-your-eye mangrove – Excoecaria agallocha.
Blister Bush – Peucedanum galbanum.
Bloodroot – Sanguinaria canadensis.
Blue-green algae – Cyanobacteria.
Bobbins – Arum maculatum.
Bracken – Pteridium aquilinum.
Broom – Cytisus scoparius.
Brugmansia (commonly known as angel's trumpet).
All parts of the plant contain the tropane
alkaloids scopolamine & atropine.
Often fatal.
Physostigma venenosum- Calabar Bean.
Caladium (commonly known as angel wings, elephant ear and heart of Jesus).
All parts of the plant poisonous.
Symptoms generally irritation, pain, and
swelling of tissues.
If the mouth or tongue swell, breathing may be
fatally blocked.
Castor oil plant – Ricinus communis.
Cerbera odollam (commonly known as the suicide tree).
Seeds contain cerberina potent toxin related to digoxin.
Blocks the Ca ion channels in heart
muscle, causing disruption of the heart
Typically fatal, even a single seed ingesting.
Cerberin - difficult to detect in autopsies, taste
masked with strong spices, such as curry.
Often used in homicide, suicide- India.
2004- documented more than 500 cases of fatal
Cerbera poisoning between 1989 - 1999
in Kerala.
No plant in the world is responsible for as
the odollam tree.'
Related species is Cerbera tanghin the
seeds known as tanghin poison nut-used as
an 'ordeal poison‘.
Chelidonium majus (also known as greater celandine).
Whole plant toxic in moderate doses-contains
range of isoquinoline alkaloids, but claimed
therapeutic uses at the correct dosage.
Main alkaloid present in
the herb &
chelidonine, sanguinarine and chelerythrine a
lso present.
Sanguinarine-particularly toxic with
an LD50 of only 18 mg per kg body
Effect of the fresh herb is analgesic,
cholagogic, antimicrobial, oncostatic,
with action as a central nervous
system sedative.
In animal tests, Chelidonium
be cytostatic.
shown to
Latex causes contact dermatitis and eye irritation.
Stains on skin of the fingers are sometimes
reported to cause eye irritation after rubbing the
eyes or handling contact lenses.
Latex also contains proteolytic enzymes + the
phytocystatin chelidostatin, a cysteine protease
Christmas rose – Helleborus niger
Cicuta (several species)
(commonly known as water
hemlock, cowbane, wild carrot, snakeweed, poison parsnip, false parsley, children's
bane and death-of-man).
Root-when freshly pulled out of the ground,
toxin cicutoxin, a central nervous system
stimulant, resulting in seizures.
When dried, the poisonous effect is reduced.
Most common species -C. maculata.
C. douglasii, (USA) often found in pastures
and swamps, has especially thick stems and
very large and sturdy flowers which are
sometimes harvested for flower displays.
Inadvisable as the sap is also toxic.
Cocklebur – Xanthium straumarium
crocus and meadow saffron).
Bulbs contain colchicine.
Colchicine poisoning -compared to arsenic poisoning; symptoms
start 2 to 5 hours after the toxic dose has been ingested - include
burning in the mouth and throat, fever, vomiting, diarrhea,
abdominal pain and kidney failure.
Symptoms may set in as many as 24 hours after the exposure.
Onset of multiple-system organ failure may occur within 24-72
Includes hypovolemic shock due to extreme
vascular damage and fluid loss through the GI
tract, which may result in death.
Sufferers may experience kidney damage
resulting in low urine output and bloody urine;
low white blood cell counts (persisting for several
and respiratory failure.
Recovery may begin within 6 to 8 days.
No specific antidote
treatments do exist.
Despite dosing issues concerning its toxicity,
of gout, familial Mediterranean fever, pericarditis
& Behçet's disease.
Investigated for its use as an anti-cancer drug.
Conium maculatum
snakeweed and beaver poison).
known as
All plant parts contain alkaloid coniine - causes
stomach pains, vomiting, progressive paralysis
of the central nervous system.
Can be fatal-the poison that killed Socrates.
Not to be confused with hemlock trees
(Tsuga spp), which, while not edible, are not
nearly as toxic as the herbaceous plant Conium.
• Conium
native to Europe
the Medit. as Conium maculatum and to
southern Africa as C. chaerophylloides.
• Ascending paralysis it produces, ending in
death by failure of respiration.
• Old remedy.
Conium maculatum
Conium chaerophylloides.
C. maculatum-an excellent remedy for difficult
gait, trembling, sudden loss of strength
while walking, painful stiffness of legs, etc.
Such a condition is often found in old age, a
time of weakness, languor, local congestions,
and sluggishness.
Special environment that Conium chooses to
manifest its action.
• Corresponds to the hypochondriasis, urinary
troubles, weakened memory.
• Growth of tumors invite it also.
• Great debility in the morning in bed.
• Weakness of body and mind trembling, and
• Cancerous diathesis.
• Arteriosclerosis.
• Caries of sternum.
• Enlarged glands.
• Acts on the glandular system, engorging and
indurating it, altering its structure like scrofulous
and cancerous conditions.
• Tonic after grippe. Insomnia of multiple neuritis.
Consolida (commonly known as larkspur).
Young plants & seeds poisonous, causing
nausea, muscle twitches, paralysis. Often
Convallaria majalis (commonly known as lily of the valley).
Contains 38 different cardiac glycosides.
Coriaria myrtifolia (commonly known as redoul).
coriamyrtin, ingestion of which produces
digestive, neurological & respiratory problems.
Fruits poisonous, superficially resemble
blackberries, may mistakenly be eaten.
Can be fatal in children.
Corn cockle – Agrostemma githago.
Corn lily – Veratrum.
Cowbane – Cicuta.
Cows and bulls Cuckoo-pint– Arum maculatum.
Crab's eye – Abrus precatorius.
Cyanobacteria -containing many different
species, including Anacystis cynea & Anabaena
circinalis, producing several different toxins –
collectively cyanotoxins.
Include neurotoxins, hepatotoxins, endotoxins
& cytotoxins.
Potentially hazardous particularly to marine
animals, but also to humans.
Cytisus scoparius (commonly known as broom or common broom).
Contains toxic alkaloids - depresses heart &
nervous system.
Alkaloid sparteine is a class 1a anti-arrhythmic
agent; a sodium channel blocker.
Not FDA approved for human use-not included
in the classification of antiarrhythmic drugs.
Daffodil – Narcissus.
Daphne. The berries (either red or yellow)
are poisonous, causing burns to mouth and
digestive tract, followed by coma.
Often fatal.
Darnel – Lolium temulentum.
Datura Contains the alkaloids scopolamine
& atropine.
Datura stramonium (commonly known as jimson weed, thorn)
All plant parts poisonous, causing abnormal
thirst, vision distortions, delirium, incoherence,
coma. Often fatal.
Used as a hallucinogenic drug by the natives in
Americas and others.
Incorrect dosage can lead to death.
the Melanthieae :- species whose common name
includes "deathcamas",
like; Amianthium, Anticlea, Stenanthium,
Toxicoscordion & Zigadenus.
All plant parts toxic, due to the presence of
Grazing animals, such as sheep and cattle, may
be affected and human fatalities have occurred.
Delphinium (also known as larkspur).
Contains the alkaloid delsoline.
Young plants & seeds-poisonous,
causing nausea, muscle twitches,
paralysis, often fatal.
Dendrocnide moroides (also known as stinging tree and gympie gympie).
Capable of inflicting a painful sting when
Stinging may last for several days and is
exacerbated by touching, rubbing, and cold.
Can be fatal.
(also known as bleeding heart and Dutchman's
Leaves & roots poisonous, cause convulsions
and other nervous symptoms.
Dichapetalum cymosum (also known as gifblaar).
Well known as a livestock poison in South
poison fluoroacetic acid.
(commonly known as dumbcane').
All parts are poisonous, causing intense
burning, irritation, and immobility of
the tongue, mouth, and throat.
Swelling can be severe enough to block
breathing, leading to death.
Digitalis purpurea (commonly known as foxglove).
Leaves, seeds, & flowers poisonous,
steroid glycosides.
Cause irregular heartbeat,
digestive upset, and confusion.
Can be fatal.
Doll's eyes – Actaea pachypoda.
Elder/Elderberry – Sambucus.
Euonymus europaeus
spindle or spindle tree).
theobromine & caffeine
substances, as well as
bitter terpene.
amongst other
an extremely
Poisonings more common in young children,
who are enticed by the brightly coloured
Ingestion can result in liver & kidney
damage and even death.
Many other species of Euonymus, many of
which are also poisonous.
Gelsemium sempervirens (common name yellow jessamine).
All parts are poisonous, causing nausea and
vomiting. Often fatal.
Possible to become ill from ingesting honey made
from jessamine nectar.
Excoecaria agallocha
mangrove and river poison tree).
Contact with latex can cause skin
irritation and blistering; eye contact can
cause temporary blindness.
False hellebore – Veratrum.
Frangipani – Plumeria.
Giant hogweed– Heracleum mantegazzianum.
Gympie gympie – Dendrocnide moroides.
Heart of Jesus – Caladium.
Shakespears advice on plant poisons
still applies:"Virtue itself turns to
vice, being misapplied, & vice
sometimes by action dignified.
Within the infant rind of this small
flower, Poison heth residence, &
medicine power.

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