Poisonous plants, what to do?

Poisonous plants are plants of which the intake of or contact with a relatively small amount of seed, root, leaf, stem, fruit or sap can cause internal or external damage to humans or animals. The degree of toxicity depends on various factors: not all plant parts are as poisonous as others, some lose their toxicity after boiling or drying, others become more toxic after chewing or crushing.

Emergency calls from the Belgian poison control centre (tel. 070 245 245) reveal that two third of all plant intoxication victims are young children, especially infants and toddlers between 0 and 4 years old, because they are inclined to put things in their mouth. Due to their low body weight they also react faster to toxins than adults. However, most accidents with children turn out well. Only in 1 of 7 cases they complain of stomach ache, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting. Skin reactions, fever, paleness and feeling unwell occur less often. Only exceptionally neurological symptoms (sleepiness, excitement, dilated pupils) or cardiovascular symptoms (hypotension, brady- or tachycardia) are shown.

Adults poisoned by plants most frequently experience skin irritations, gastrointestinal complaints and eye injuries. Sometimes accidents are also caused by a lack of plant knowledge or confusion with other plants. An important warning for those experimenting with self-medication or ecodrugs.

What to do in case of poisoning?

Always remain calm. If poisoned by eating certain plant parts, clear the mouth of all remnants and save them. If the victim is vomiting, also keep it. But in no case force the victim to vomit without obtaining an expert opinion. Also making the victim drink milk is not a good idea.

If exposed to poisonous plants causing skin irritation or burns, get out and stay away of sunlight. Rince with plenty of water for at least 10 minutes. Do not rub the skin and never experiment with ointments.
Always obtain expert advice from your local poison control centre (in Belgium day and night to be reached on the free telephone number 070 245 245), your family doctor or the alarm number 112.

Better to be safe than sorry

Make sure you know the plants in and around your house. Preferably buy harmless species. Luckily there are more non-poisonous than poisonous plants.
Teach children how to handle plants in a responsible way.
Always put on gloves and never rub in your eyes when working in the garden.
Always keep activated carbon in your medicine chest (be careful however, not to be used for all poisonings!).