Poisonous Plants May Look Like Tasty Summer Treats, So Be Wary

July 27, 2010

With the local foods movement going strong and summer at its peak, many are tempted to taste homegrown treats. Nature lovers need to be wary that consuming some foods from the earth may carry a heavy cost.

            “This is the time when Mother Nature is at her best, so we need to be especially careful not to eat poisonous plants,” said Ruth Lawrence, M.D., professor of Pediatrics and Neonatology at Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center and medical director of the Ruth A. Lawrence Poison and Drug Information Center.

  • Know Your Garden: With homegrown plants, be sure to know which ones are poisonous. If some plants are questionable, take clippings to a plant specialist and ask to for identification. Resources include the Poison Help Hotline at (585) 273-4155 or Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Gardening Helpline, open 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday, at (585) 473-5335. Write down names of plants and keep the list handy.
  • Eat Plants Cultivated for Consumption: It’s safe to say that fruit, vegetables and legumes that are sold for consumption are okay to eat and in fact, they provide a plentitude of nutrients, including valuable vitamins and anti-oxidants which prevent illness.
  • Avoid Eating Fruit Pits: Pits from peaches, cherries and many other fruits are poisonous. Make sure to cut out the pit or eat around it. Discard the pit in a place where neither children nor animals can a hold of it.
  • Beware of Tempting Wild Berries: With attractive, brightly colored berries coming to fruition from toxic plants like the yew bushes and lily-of-the-valley, make sure children know not to eat berries unless an adult has approved them as safe to eat.
  • Teach Children Not to Eat Growing Plants: When it comes down to educating children about what fruits, vegetables or legumes are safe to eat, don’t take any chances.
    • Let children know that they need to avoid eating any wild plants or mushrooms that they see in the yard, the park or the woods.
    • Decorative plants in the house aren’t to be tasted either. If there’s a particularly potent plant in the house, you might want to consider swapping it out for a plastic look-alike.
    • Keep plants, seeds and bulbs up high and out of reach of children.
    • Remind children that even if they see birds or animals eating a plant, it might still be poisonous to humans.

If you or someone you know begins to feel faint, dizzy, dehydrated, have an upset stomach or exhibit any other signs of discomfort or malaise after consuming a fruit, vegetable or legume that has come from a questionable source, call the Poison and Drug Information Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222. An experienced staff member can provide advice for treatment. He or she may direct you to the Emergency Department, depending on the severity of your symptoms. For more valuable resources and information about poison prevention, visit www.fingerlakespoison.org.

Climbing Nightshade may look attractive, but its red berries are poisonous.

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