Health: Plant poisoning: This should be considered – knowledge

Can you eat this berry?  There is a risk of confusion when you choose them yourself.  Photo: imago/Westend61/Daniel Ingold

Can you eat this berry? There is a risk of confusion when you choose them yourself. Photo: imago/Westend61/Daniel Ingold

A recent study shows that plants continue to play a major role in poison control calls. But the danger is often less than expected. Instead, there are many misconceptions circulating among the German population.

British writer Aldous Huxley already suspected: “Beauty is more dangerous than wine.” And in relation to some plants, he was absolutely right. Monkshood, death nightshade and angel’s trumpet are garden ornaments, but we would prefer to avoid their poison.

As a research team led by toxicologist and travel medicine specialist Sebastian Wendt of the University Hospital Leipzig found, plants are among the 3 most frequently reported poisonings in Germany. Right behind medicines and chemicals. But far ahead of mushrooms, which as a layman would be expected to play a leading role in the case of possible poisoning. In the case of children, about 15 percent of inquiries received at one of the German poison centers relate to contact with or consumption of a plant. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that children’s hands quickly grasp nature and sometimes like to put objects in their mouths.

Basic knowledge is missing

Many parents, teachers and doctors seem to lack the basic knowledge of what is considered a real plant hazard in this country – and so they often call poison control, even though it’s not really necessary. Carola Seidel, deputy head of the poison information center at the University Hospital of Bonn, reports that a teacher asked what she should do now that one of her school children had eaten two unripe cherries. “There should be no credible report anywhere of anyone ever being poisoned in this way,” says Seidel. In another call, the parents reported that their child had eaten pecan berries. After that, the doctor asked about the color of the fruit. “The answer was: blue,” says Seidel. “And then it was clear: it can’t be an orena berry.”

Even the oft-heard theory that climate change would contribute to the spread of new poisonous plants in this country cannot be confirmed by Seidel from her work on the poison hotline. There are now several herbs such as lucky feather, native to Africa, which are now emerging as a strong irritant to the mucous membranes. “But otherwise we have the usual suspects that have been causing poisoning for decades,” Seidel emphasizes. Such as deadly evening primrose, which can be confused with edible berries. Or the autumn crocus that causes poisoning every spring because it is similar to the wild garlic that is often gathered.

Salt water is a bad idea

There are also many misconceptions in this country when it comes to first aid for plant poisoning. Therefore, there is still the idea that if a child has bitten a poisonous plant, they should stick a finger down their throat or give them a drink of concentrated salt water to make them vomit. “But in the end, only relatively small amounts of toxins are removed, maybe 10 to 20 percent,” Seidel emphasizes. In addition, salt water can lead to fatal, life-threatening poisoning, and over-the-counter nausea syrups should also be discontinued as they can cause fulminant mucosal irritation and persistent vomiting. Even gastric lavage is very rarely used today.

Better give me something to drink

For parents, educators and educators, on the other hand, it is usually enough to give something to drink in case of possible plant poisoning. “It can also be milk if the child prefers milk,” says Seidel. “Because their fat content is now often so low that they can hardly support the absorption of fat-soluble toxins – widely referred to as side effects.” In principle, tea, water or juice are ideal, as they are primarily a matter of dilution to alleviate irritating effect of problematic substances.

Finally, let’s not forget that if contact with a poisonous plant is suspected, a poison control center can of course be contacted. Because you often don’t know for sure whether the child nibbled on the deadly nightshades or just picked them. “The saying goes: caution is the mother of the porcelain box,” emphasizes Seidel. But it does not apply if the child ate two unripe cherries.


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