Medicine Woman

  (Waynesville, North Carolina)
dangerous herbs, medicinal herbs, culinary herbs
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Here is a list of POISONOUS PLANTS throughout the UNITED STATES

Here is a list of POISONOUS PLANTS throughout the UNITED STATES for those open minded people who do not really believe that all herbs are for human or even animal consumption, and can comprehend the fact that many herbs are poisonous.


I'm not going to go into the description of these plants, you can usually get a good colored picture with descriptions from other books and online.  However, many books and often online information  do not even state if the plant is poisonous or not.  So, I'm going to go through as many plants that I can find and think of and just give the common names of the plants, the Latin names, other plants that may be related, where they are most apt to grow and the dangerous part of the plant and symptoms of poisoning.  








AMERICAN HELLEBORE (VERATRUM VIRIDE) (BLACK AND GREEN): American false hellebore, American white hellebore.   Both American hellebore and European white hellebore contain jervine alkaloids, the constituents responsible for the plants' toxic cardiovascular effects (According to some references, the term "Hellebore" refers to a genus unrelated to, but commonly confused with, the genus Veratrum. Various species of the genus Veratrum are known as false hellebore or American hellebore, and white hellebore, but they are unrelated plants of the family Liliaceae and/or subfamily Melanthiaceae. The plant "hellebore" (not the genus) can refer to either genus Helleborus or Veratrum)


USED FOR:  The root and rhizome of American hellebore has been used historically for fever, pain, and high blood pressure, with a decoction (boiled in water) of the root being used for chronic coughs and constipation. Historically, the whole plant was not routinely used medicinally, only the root and rhizome.


MOST LIKELY TO BE SEEN GROWING a perennial plant native to the swampy areas and moist meadows of the eastern and western United States


DANGER :  Although American hellebore was formerly used as a tea or tincture, potentially toxic and irritating constituents preclude its modern day use by ingestion.


The toxic effects associated with American hellebore limit its ability to be used as an agent to treat hypertension (high blood pressure), related kidney/heart diseases, and hypertension associated with pre-eclampsia in pregnancy.


Currently, there is a lack of scientific information regarding the safety or effectiveness of American hellebore as a whole plant, or homeopathically


SYMPTOMS    Internally violently narcotic. Symptoms of hellbore poisoning include salivation, nausea, vomiting, colic, diarrhea, weak heartbeat, vertigo, ringing ears, disturbed vision, coronary arrest. Green hellebore is a cardiac hellbore is a cardiac stimulant. Applied locally, the fresh root is an irritant.






AMERICAN POKEWEED (PHYTOLACCA AMERICANA) American Pokeweed is also known as American nightshade, cancer jalap, oakum, garget, inkberry, pigeon berry, pecan bush, poke root, pokeweed, redweed, scoke, red ink plant and chui xu shang lu, parts of this plant are highly toxic to livestock and humans.. The fruits of American Pokeweed look edible too like the Jerusalem cherry that's why Pokeweed poisonings are common. Although the fruits are toxic to humans, they're not to birds. The toxic components of the plant are saponins. Deaths are currently uncommon, although there are cases of emesis and catharsis, but at least one death of a child who consumed crushed seeds in a juice has occurred.






AUTUMN CROCUS/ MEADOW SAFFRON  ( Colchicum autumnale L) 


MOST LIKELY TO BE SEEN GROWING  in damp woods and meadows on non acid soils. Native to Europe and Great Britain and cultivated in US


DANGER  All parts of the plant are poisonous due to alkaloids such as colchicine.


SYMPTOMS  gastrointestinal irritation with abdominal pain diarrhea.  Muscular weakness, breathing difficulties and occasionally coma, convulsions and respiratory failure may occur.  The toxins can pass in the milk of animals that have eaten Colchicum and can accumulate during slow ingestion to reach a toxic level.





BLACK LOCUST/ ACACIA   (ROBINIA PSEUDOACACIA L)    twenty species are described from North America. MOST LIKELY TO BE SEEN GROWING native to eastern and central US and extending into south Canada.  Sometimes grown for timber.


DANGER  Children have been poisoned by the seeds and all parts of the plant.  Poison is due to the presence of a toxin called “robin” and a glycoside “robitin”> SYMPTOMS  vomiting, diarrheas, weakness, dilated pupils, weak irregular pulse and breathing difficulties






BLUE COHOSH: CAULOPHYLLUM THALICTROIDES (L.) MICHX. A/K/A  Squaw-root, Papoose-root, Caulophylle faux-pigamon yellow ginseng and blue ginseng Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)


MOST LIKELY TO BE SEEN  GROWING:   found in hardwood forest of the eastern United States, and favors moist coves and hillsides, generally in shady locations, in rich soil. It grows in eastern North America, from Manitoba and Oklahoma east to the Atlantic Ocean


DANGER:  Toxic to the heart muscle and may harm intestines. Seeds are poisonous. Powder is strongly irritating to mucous membranes. Some of the compounds found in blue cohosh, such as caulophyllosaponin, methylcytosine, and caulosaponin, appear to constrict coronary vessels, limiting blood flow to the heart and reducing its ability to pump. One published case report documents profound heart failure in a child born to a mother who used blue cohosh to induce labor     may cause; 1) perinatal stroke, 2) acute myocardial infarction, profound congestive heart failure and shock and 3) severe multi-organ hypoxic injury.


POISONOUS PART:     Raw seeds, roots


SYMPTOMS:  Vomiting and diarrhea .   Eating the raw seeds or roots can cause poisoning symptoms and skin contact can also result in skin irritation. The roasted seeds are sometimes used as a safe coffee substitute. The toxic compounds in the plant are alkaloids and saponins. The plant is considered to have a relatively low level of toxicity.




Scotch BROOM (Cytisus scoparius), Bannal, basam, Besenginaterkraut, besom, bissom, bream, broom, broom tops, broomtops, browme, brum, common broom, Cystisi scoparii flos, Cystisus scoparius, Cytsus scoprfus, English broom, European broom.  Also referred to as broom. Not to be confused with Spanish broom (Spartium junceum), which has been associated with severe toxicity, or Butcher's broom (Ruscus aculeatus).


MOST LIKELY TO BE SEEN GROWING:   Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), also referred to as broom, is a perennial woody plant native to Europe. The species was introduced as a garden ornamental to North America and now is common across western Canada and California. Scotch broom plants grow up to 10 feet tall  and spreads quickly and aggressively at the expense of other plants and trees and is often considered a pest.


DANGERS:  There is particular concern about the potential toxicity of scotch broom due to the presence of small amounts of the toxic alkaloids sparteine and isosparteine, which are found in both the flowers and herb (above-ground parts). Sparteine has known effects on the electrical conductivity of heart muscle and can potentially cause dangerous heart rhythms or interact with cardiac drugs. Sparteine is also known to cause uterine contractions and should be avoided during pregnancy. Life-threatening adverse effects have been associated with sparteine. Toxicity symptoms similar to nicotine poisoning: circulatory collapse, irregular heart beat, nausea, diarrhea, vertigo, headache, paralysis of respiratory and motor centers, convulsions, death.


SYMPTOMS: symptoms including dizziness, headache, weakness, fatigue, sleepiness, blurry vision, sweating, nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea and confusion. When smoked in cigarette form; headache, confusion, relaxation, and euphoria may occur. Driving or operating heavy machinery should be avoided. Smoking cigarettes containing scotch broom carries a risk of inhalation of fungal contaminants (aspergillus), with a possibility of resulting fungal pneumonia..   Topical (skin) use may cause irritation due to the presence of saponins.  Pregnancy and Breastfeeding:     Scotch broom should be avoided during pregnancy. Scotch broom contains the alkaloid sparteine, which is known to cause uterine contractions, and carries a risk of inducing abortion (abortifacient properties).  Scotch broom should be avoided during breastfeeding due to insufficient evidence and a hypothetical risk of serious toxicity.





CHINABERRY TREE /WHITE CEDAR   (Melia azedarach  L)  other related plants: M.azedarach var umbraculiformis, a horticultural form, is known as the Texas umbrella tree.


MOST LIKELY TO BE SEEN GROWING   frequently planted in the southern US as an ornamental. Originally native to south west Asia. DANGER    children have died from eating the berries and adults have died from making a brew out of the leaves. A resinous poison is in the fruit pulp, but amount may vary with the strain and growing conditions. 


SYMPTOMS   the irritant  activity of the plant is shown by vomiting and constipation or diarrheas . Difficulty in breathing, weakening heart activity and nervous depression or excitement and paralysis may develop. Symptoms may occur up to several hours and death may take place within a few days.


CAUTION:    should be considered highly dangerous. Be very wary of anyone who claims to be knowledgeable  of herbs and  uses Chinaberry or white cedar.




COLTSFOOT    TUSSILAGO FARFARA L. (ASTERACEAE) a/k/a  Ass's Foot, Bullsfoot , Hallfoot, Horsehoof ,Huki-Tanpopo, K'Uan Tung, Oksurukotu, Son-before-father, To Wu, and Tusilago


MOST LIKELY TO BE SEEN GROWING :  in the eastern United States from Minnesota south to Tennessee, east to North Carolina, and north to Maine . It occurs throughout southern Ontario, southern Quebec, and the Canadian Maritime provinces. It is also found in southwestern British Columbia and Vancouver Island and occasionally west of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest Coltsfoot: Is used for coughs but contains alkaloids that cause liver cancer.


DANGERS AND SAFETY ISSUES:   Recent research shows anti-inflammatory activity, however, studies show that the use of coltsfoot as an herbal remedy has adverse effects, such as liver damage Despite evidence that coltsfoot does generally work, it is not without its problems. The leaves, and to a greater degree the buds and flowers, contain compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids. These compounds are known to damage the liver. They can cause liver cancer with extended exposure and may also cause the blood vessels of the liver to narrow dangerously. may cause serious liver disease if consumed over long periods of time  ( could be months) The pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in coltsfoot are known to have potential liver-toxic and cancer-promoting effects






COMMON PRIVET  (LIGUSTRUM VULGARE L)   other related plants:  L.lucidum Ait. (glossy privet)   and  L. Japonicum Thunb. And other species are also considered to have toxic berries.


MOST LIKELY TO BE SEEN GROWING extensively cultivated in Europe and North America as a hedge plant. This plant is  Native to Britain and Europe, often preferring calcareous soils.


DANGER    children have been poisoned by the attractive berries.


SYMPTOMS:  gastric irritation with vomiting and purging, followed in severe cases by death.  The active ingredient is the glycoside ligustrin







DAFFODIL  (NARCISSUS PSEUDO-NARCISSUS L)  other related plants:  all members of the genus Narcissus {about 30 species in all} are considered dangerous.  Many other commonly cultivated genera in this family, such as Galanthus, Amaryllis, Crinum, Nerine and Haemanthus are also said to contain toxic alkaloids.


MOST LIKELY TO BE SEEN GROWING  in Europe, Britain and north America.


DANGERS  Eating the bulbs by mistake for edible bulbs produces severe gastroenteritis with vomiting and purging. Trembling and convulsions may occur.




101 Medicinal Herbs  by Steven Foster


The Honest Herbal by Varro E Tyler


Dr. James Duke, formerly chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Medicinal Plant Resources Laboratory


The 'PDR for Herbal Medicines'


Natural Standard Professional Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (


Contributor Information and Disclosures Author Daniel E Brooks, MD  Co-Medical Director, Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center, Department of Medical Toxicology, Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center





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