Know Your Plants

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Poison Safety & Prevention

Safe or Poisonous?

Each year over 100,000 people in the United States call Poison Control Centers regarding plant and mushroom exposures. Young children, and sometimes pets, will often chew and eat anything within reach no matter how it tastes. There is no easy “test” for knowing poisonous plants from those that are safe to eat. Heating and cooking do not necessarily destroy a plant or mushroom’s toxic parts.

Some plants contain substances that are very irritating to the skin, mouth and tongue. Immediate burning pain is common, and sometimes stomach upset, mouth and tongue swelling or breathing problems may occur. Some plants may cause a skin rash. Sometimes the rash occurs only after being in the sunlight or gets worse with sunlight. Some plants may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.

Eating a small amount of a plant may not be a problem, but large or repeated doses may be harmful. Animals and birds can often eat plants that may be unsafe to humans.

Eating any mushrooms collected outdoors should be considered dangerous. Call the Poison Center even if you only suspect that someone has eaten one. Even after serious poisonings, symptoms may not appear until many hours later. Do not wait until symptoms appear.

Symptoms of severe mushroom poisoning can include intense vomiting and diarrhea and can lead to liver failure and death. Eating mushrooms collected outdoors can be very risky, because many poisonous mushrooms look like and taste like ones that are safe to eat. There is no easy way to tell the difference between safe and unsafe mushrooms. Teach children to never touch or taste outdoor mushrooms.

If you have small children or curious pets, consider removing toxic plants from your garden and house. Before buying a plant, have the store tell you the name of the plant and label it with both the common and botanical name. Show grandparents and baby sitters where the plant label is. It is very hard for Poison Specialists to identify plants from a description given over the phone. Know the names of your plants before a poisoning happens.

Houseplants should be placed out of the reach of the very young. Teach children not to put any part of a plant in their mouth. This means leaves, stems, bark, seeds, nuts, berries and bulbs. Do not allow children to suck nectar from flowers or make “tea” for the leaves. Never let children chew on jewelry made from seeds or beans.

Be prepared! Make sure you have Poison Center stickers on your telephones. Call the Texas Poison Center Network to get stickers for your phones and for the phones of grandparents and baby sitters. If you suspect a poisoning, immediately call the Poison Center.

Treatment of Plant Exposures

Remove any remaining parts of the plant or mushroom from the victim’s mouth and wipe out the mouth with a damp cloth. Give 4 to 6 ounces of water as long as the person can swallow normally.

Wash any skin exposed to the plant with soap and cool water as soon as possible.

Flush eyes with lukewarm water for 15 minutes. Don’t force the eyes open but encourage blinking.

Call your Poison Center after initiating any of these treatments for further treatment recommendations.

If advised to take the person to the hospital, take the plant or a piece of it along.