Albright College


Tis’ the Season for Poison

During the spring season most of us are outside gardening and weeding and inadvertently we pick that stray weed that causes an itchy rash. Here is some information to help you while you are planting your beautiful flowers, picking those pesky weeds or just taking a lovely hike in nature’s woods.

You can come into contact with the plant irritant in 4 different ways, you can either:

  • Ingest (eat it)
  • Contact (touch it, causing skin irritation)
  • Absorption (poison is absorbed through the skin)
  • Inhalation (breathe or inhale the poison)
All of these range from very minor irritation to possibly death. It is very difficult to determine how poisonous a plant is because some you might need to come into contact with a large amount before a reaction is noted or you might only come into contact with a small amount before death occurs.

Every plant will vary in its amount of toxicity due to the growing conditions and the slight variations of its subspecies. Also, everyone has different levels of resistance when it comes to poisonous plants.

Common Misconceptions:
  • Eat what an animal eats. Some animals won’t have a reaction to poisonous plants that humans will.
  • Boiling will remove all poisons. Boiling plants removes many poisons but not all poisons.
  • Red plants are poisonous. Some that are red are poisonous but not all of them.
Contact Dermatitis is what is caused by irritation from plants. This can be dangerous if there is contact in or around the eyes. The oil of the plants is what causes the irritation. Oils even touched to a piece of equipment then touched again by a human can be contracted to the human and cause irritation. Poisonous plants should never be burned due to the smoke that can get into someone’s eyes or inhaled.

These symptoms include but are not limited to: burning, reddening, itching, swelling, and blisters. These can show in a few hours to a few days after contact. You can try to remove the oils by washing with soap and cold water. If soap and water is not available you can use dirt or sand but DO NOT use if blisters are apparent. Breaking open blisters is discouraged because it can lead to infection.

Ingestion of plants can be very serious and cause death very quickly. Do not eat any plants unless they are properly identified. It is a good idea to keep a log of plants that you’ve eaten.

Signs and Symptoms of ingestion poisoning can include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, slowed heart rate and slowed respirations, headaches, hallucinations, dry mouth, unconsciousness, coma, and death.

It would be highly beneficial to learn as much about plants as possible because a poisonous plant is very similar looking to its non-poisonous relatives that are edible. It would be in your best interest if before you go into the wilderness you learn to identify plants in which you may come into contact. Some helpful resources would be pamphlets, books, botanical gardens and local natives. You should also cross-reference any and all information because one source might not have all the information you need.

If you would like to see pictures of poisonous plants and read more about them please visit the resource we used for this article at www.wilderness-survival.net/Appc.php.

Have a wonderful and safe outdoor experience this May. 

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