Lethal Beauties

October 25, 2017

With Halloween less than a week away and all things spooky, mysterious, and creepy in mind, this blog post seems apropos…

We often consider the beneficial attributes of the flowers we see in our garden and growing wild in the woods; their lovely smell, color, and shape but there are some that, given the opportunity, can be potentially harmful and even fatal. Fortunately, it is rare that such an opportunity presents itself. Below is a brief description and history of three common plants found in New England.

*An interesting (and positive) thing to note: ~Aside from being extremely poisonous, all three plants are used in homeopathic remedies to heal as well as some are used medically for the treatment of various diseases.

“Aconite”: Monkshood

“Monkshood” or “Wolfsbane” is not a plant to be trifled with. All parts of Aconitum, especially the roots, are full of an alkaloid called aconitine. Aconitine first stimulates and later paralyzes the nerves of pain, touch, and temperature if applied to any mucous membrane. Even abraded skin can absorb a dangerous dose of the compound. Native peoples have taken advantage of this poison. Juice from the roots was commonly utilized to poison arrow tips used for hunting and warfare. Historically the root of this plant was ground and put in food to kill mice and other unwanted animals. Extreme caution must be used when handling this plant and if small children are around, then you should probably avoid growing Monkshood. Older children and teens should be educated about the risks of the plant as accidental poisonings by ingestion of monkshood are not unheard of. 

**Aconitum Napellus is a homeopathic remedy made from Aconite and used in patients who are overcome with fear, phobias, and nervousness. It is also used to treat severe infections.

“Digitalis purpurea”: Foxglove

The leaves, flowers as well as seeds of this herb are poisonous to humans as well as certain animals as they enclose a toxic cardiac glycoside called digitoxin. Consuming either of them may even prove to be fatal. However, 18th century English botanist William Withering was the first to extract cardiac glycoside digitoxin from the leaves and presently it forms the basis of the medication that is used to treat heart problems.

**Digitalis, a homeopathic treatment made from the plant is said to treat those suffering from heart and circulatory problems. A chemical contained in Foxglove, “Digoxin”, has been used experimentally by scientists in the medical field to treat breast cancer.

“Rhododendron spp.”: Azalea

Azaleas, a subspecies of the rhododendron are beautiful ornamental shrubs with clusters of bright flowers and evergreen foliage. Both their leaves and flowers are toxic and even the honey from their flowers is poisonous. Both contain glycosides, in particular, andromedotoxin, a resin that burns the mouth. Fatalities from eating parts of these plants are rare, but ingestion will cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal upset and low blood pressure.

**Rhododendron chrysanthemum is the homeopathic remedy made from this plant. It is generally recommended for many inflammatory conditions including, gout, rheumatism, fever, and headaches.

​They say that knowledge is power and so it is helpful to know that while plants provide endless hours of enjoyment to our senses they also can possess the ability to injure as well as heal and it is up to us to know the difference!





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