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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

FDA Poisonous Plant Database

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AUTHOR(S): Callahan, R.; Piccola, F.; Gensheimer, K.; Parkin, W. E.; Prusakowski, J.; Scheiber, G.; Henry, S.
TITLE: Plant poisonings - New Jersey.
YEAR: 1981 CITATION: MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 30(6), 65-67 [English]
FDA #: F07132
ABSTRACT: Within a 2.5 month period in 1980, 27 New Jersey residents were poisoned, in 2 separate episodes, by eating wild plants. The poisonings were serious enough that 21 persons sought medical care; 4 were hospitalized. Pokeweed poisoning Passaic County: On July 11, an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness related to eating pokeweed leaves affected campers in a large day camp. Initial reports indicated that the outbreak was limited to a "nature group" whose members had sampled a salad made with this wild plant. The group, comprising 52 campers and counselors, had been offered pokeweed salad prepared from young leaves picked, boiled, drained, and reboiled that morning, a method that reputedly ensured the plant's edibility. Sixteen (31%) of the 51 interviewed met the case definition (vomiting accompanied by any 3 of the following: nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, dizziness, and headache on July 11). Nine others who were not part of the nature group also had tasted the salad; 5 (56%) of these became ill. Of the 21 ill campers, 18 (86%) experienced nausea, 18 (86%) stomach cramps, 17 (81%) vomiting, 11 (52%) headache, 10 (48%) dizziness, 8 (38%) burning in the stomach or mouth; and 6 (29%) diarrhea. Persons became ill .5 to 5.5 hours (mean 3 hours) after eating the pokeweed. Symptoms lasted 1 to 48 hours, with a mean of 24 hours. Eighteen persons were seen in local emergency rooms or physicians' offices. Four of these were hospitalized for 24 to 48 hours for protracted vomiting and dehydration. Food history analysis was done for all 60 persons. Salad was the only food item significantly associated with illness. Twenty (43%) of the 46 persons who ate pokeweed became ill compared with 1 (7%) of 14 who did not eat it (P .01). Moreover, for those who ate the salad, illness was associated with eating at least 1 teaspoonful compared with less than 1 teaspoonful (p=.02). Vomitus analyzed for 7 persons was negative for Staphylococcus aureus. Jimsonweed toxicosis Mercer County: Six New Jersey teenagers became ill on September 20, shortly after consuming a combination of jimsonweed seeds and alcohol. The number of pods of seeds eaten ranged from .5 to 2. In addition, each teenager drank up to 1 quart of beer and approximately 1 2 oz of whiskey. While symptoms, time of onset, and duration of illness were difficult to determine precisely because of the teenagers' disorientation, illness was characterized by hallucinations (all 6), dry mouth (6), thirst (5), blurred vision (5), flushed skin (4), inability to urinate (4), and slurred speech (4). The illness began approximately .5 to 1.75 hours after ingestion of the seeds and lasted 18 hours to 9 days. Blurred vision was the longest lasting symptom. Three teenagers sought medical treatment in a local emergency room between 8 and 18 hours after eating the seeds. In each case the diagnosis was "drug ingestion," and all 3 were sent home untreated to be observed by family members. Reported by R Callahan, Passaic County Health Dept; F Piccola, West Windsor Township Health Dept; K Gensheimer, MD, WE Parkin, DVM, State Epidemiologist, J Prusakowski, G Scheiber, New Jersey State Dept of Health; S Henry, PhD, Div of Toxicology, Bur of foods, Food and Drug Administration; Field Services Div, Epidemiology Program Office, CDC. Editorial Note: Both pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) and jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) are ubiquitous, growing in cultivated fields, near roadsides, and in other undeveloped areas. Pokeweed may be found in any size up to 3 meters tall. Small, white, round flowers on long green, red, or purple stalks mature to distinctive purple black, juicy berries (inkberries), There is disagreement about edible parts, season of edibility, and methods of preparation of pokeweed and even about whether the plant should be eaten at all. Indeed, the camp counselor in the Passaic outbreak had been preparing pokeweed salad for many years without apparent ill effects. There is general agreement that the root is the most toxic part and that toxin levels throughout the rest of the plant increase as the plant matures. The main toxic agent of pokeweed is phytolaccine, which has strong emetic properties (1 3). Jimsonweed also known as Jamestown weed, loco weed, and thorn apple, among other names is a tall, multibranched, annual herb that grows to 1.5 meters in height. The leaves are broadly ovate, dark green above, and lighter beneath. The fruit is a prickly 4 celled capsule, containing large, pitted, dark brown or black seeds. Both the leaves and the seeds are poisonous if ingested. During the autumn, when the pods open and seeds are abundant, reports of atropine like poisoning in adolescents who have eaten these seeds are not uncommon (4). The poisonous substances contained in the entire plant, but concentrated in the seeds, are alkaloids: hyoscyamine, atropine, and hyoscine (scopolamine). The toxin is a stimulant and mydriatic with parasympathetic actions. It blocks motor, secretory, and inhibitory effects of acetylcholine on smooth muscle tissue and can also be a convulsant (1). Many people who use herbs for tea, medicine, or food may be unaware of the possible toxic effect of an herb they consume. Reports show that even some herbs purchased in retail stores have been toxic to consumers (5). The Food and Drug Administration is receiving increasing numbers of requests from consumers and physicians for information on the safety of herbs because of the lack of scientific data in many instances. Information such as botanical identity, amount and part of the plant consumed, and maturity of the plant are often missing from published reports of human herbal poisonings. In addition, because of the difficulty in eliciting histories from intoxicated patients, symptoms resulting from ingestion of the herb may be inaccurately recorded. Furthermore, the pharmacologically active compounds of some herbs are unknown, and methods are currently unavailable for analyzing these compounds. Since the scientific literature on many wild herbs is limited, consumers need to be aware that there are risks involved in eating wild plants of undocumented safety. References: 1. CDC. Diseases transmitted by foods. Atlanta: CDC, 1978 (HEW publication no. (CDC) 78 8237). 2. Hardin JW, Arena JM. Human poisoning from native and cultivated plants, 2nd ed. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1974;50-4. 3. Fernald ML, Kinsey AC, Collins RC. Edible wild plants of eastern North America. New York: Harper & Row, 958;185 7. 4. Shervette RE, Schydlower M, Lampe RM, Fearnow RG. Jimson "loco" weed abuse in adolescents. Pediatrics 1979;63:520 3. 5. Anonymous. Toxic reactions to plant products sold in health food stores. The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics 1979;21(no. 7):29~31.
GRIN #: 13323 Exit Disclaimer
COMMON NAME: jimsonweed
LATIN NAMEDatura stramonium
STANDARD PLANT NAMEDatura stramonium L.
GRIN #: 28252 Exit Disclaimer
COMMON NAME: pokeweed
LATIN NAMEPhytolacca americana
STANDARD PLANT NAMEPhytolacca americana L.