I’ve always wondered how our ancestors discovered which plants they could eat and what ones they should avoid. I can’t help but imagine the gruesome and unexpected deaths suffered by those who had to endure the deadly process of testing food sources. Humans now have a complete understanding of plants and we can avoid the bad ones and use the good ones, that is, if you understand which plants are safe and what ones aren’t.
Below I have compiled a list of the 8 deadliest plants found primarily in North American regions. Upon doing my research I was surprised to discover just how deadly these plants are. Many of these plants will outright kill you if ingested (thanks mother nature.) Tread carefully and under no circumstances eat any of the following plants:
Water Hemlock (Cicuta)
Water Hemlock is one of the deadliest plants in North America. Hemlock grows on the edges of fields and near damp areas. The plant is well known to kill within 15 minutes of ingestion but can take up to days before it does the job completely. Symptoms include seizures and respiratory complications. The plant grows up to 8 feet in height. Cows often unknowingly dig up and eat the roots, the most poisonous part of the plant. Socrates was famously executed with a tincture made from Hemlock. Steer clear of this one my friend!
Castor Beans (Ricinus)
Who knew one of the most deadly substances on earth was a bean? Castor beans come from the Castor plant originating from East Africa but currently grows in warm climates like the southwestern United States. Despite being extremely deadly, The Castor Bean plant is commonly found in homes as part of ornamental arrangements. Beauty kills. Castor Beans contain a compound called Ricin. Ricin is deadly in dosages of 22 micrograms if injected or inhaled, or in doses of 20mg (roughly 8 beans) if consumed. Once the Ricin is in your system your cells absorb the poison and quickly die. You will die a slow death and won’t even feel the poison for 1 – 3 days. The KGB are famously known for usng Ricin to take out enemies. In pop culture, Ricin was used by the notorious character Walter Whitman in the hit show Breaking Bad to poison a competing drug dealer. Ricin is a popular choice for assassins because of the slow onset of death, making a clean getaway possible.
Deadly Nightshade (Atropa Belladonna)
Deadly Nightshade is one of the most well known toxic plants. If you haven’t heard of it perhaps you’ve heard one of the many aliases given to this deadly plant: belladonna, devil’s berries, naughty man’s cherries, death cherries, beautiful death, and devil’s herb. The entire plant is toxic. Everything from the roots, to the leaves, to the berries, and even the purple flowers can kill you if eaten in large enough doses. Historically, women made oil tinctures from the plant to enlarge their pupils, creating a seductive effect. Beware of the lady in purple!
Manchineel (Hippomane Mancinella)
The Macnhineel is a toxic tree native to the Florida everglades. Even standing close to the tree can have devastating effects. Standing beneath the tree during a rain can cause your skin to blister. Eating the fruit will close your throat up and choke you to death. Smoke from a burning Manchineel can cause blindness. The sap of the tree contains strong and toxic skin irritants which create unbearable allergic reactions. Indigenous people of the Caribbean would not only dip their arrows in the sap, but tie their captives directly to the tree as to endure a slow and painful death.
Oleander (Nerium Oleander)
The most common decorative plant yet the most toxic…oh the irony! Go to any park or school in North America and you will see this plant proudly displayed on the edges of the property. The entire plant contains two toxic chemicals – Oleandrin and Neandrin. These chemicals can cause cardiac arrest and have significant effects on the nervous systems. If poisoned by Oleander, induce vomiting immediately and seek medical attention.
White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima)
This is a perennial plant very similar to Hemlock and commonly found in the woodlands of Minnesota. This plant induces a sickness called tremetol, also known as milk sickness. Thousands of people have died from this plant, mainly during the 1800’s where local populations would eat or drink dairy products from a cow who had eaten the plant. The cow absorbs the poison and the poison seeps into the milk. This is why pasture management has become so important in the modern world. The leaves however can be used medicinally to calm nerves. Traditionally the dried leaves are burned to produce a smoke which is calming to the nervous system.
Devils Trumpet (Datura stramonium)
This plant also goes by a number of names: hell’s bells, devil’s weed, tolguacha, Jamestown weed, stinkweed, locoweed, pricklyburr, devil’s cucumber, devils snare, and Jimson weed. The first settlers of Jamestown mistakenly cooked up a batch of this stuff thinking it would make for a tasty vegetable. They proceeded to have vivid hallucinations for 11 days. This hallucinogenic account is documented by Robert Beverly in his book The History and Present State of Virginia:
“In this frantic condition they were confined, lest they should, in their folly, destroy themselves – though it was observed that all their actions were full of innocence and good nature. Indeed they were not very cleanly; for they would have wallowed in their own excrements, if they had not been prevented. A thousand such simple tricks they played, and after 11 days returned themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed.”
In other words, the soldiers were completely delirious for 11 days and then had no idea anything happened afterwards! In Ayurvedic medicine the leaves of the Datura plant are smoked to treat asthma. The entire plant however is extremely toxic and can be fatal. Near fatal doses of the active compounds produce a delirium like state which can last anywhere from 24 hours to 2 weeks.
Canadian Moonseed (Menispermum canadense)
Moonseed is a poisonous plant native to North America and produces poison berries which are easily mistaken for grapes. The poisonous compound is a chemical called alkaloid dauricine. The seeds inside the berries are shaped like a crescent moon, hence the name. One should always visually inspect the seeds of any wild grapes to make sure you are not making the grave mistake of eating the fruits of the deadly Moonseed!
Learning more about plants
Knowing your plants is crucial to surviving in the wild. Plants hold the key to many cures and illnesses, as well as containing the power to kill you as seen here. Eat the wrong plant and you can die. Use the right plant in the right way and you might save your life, or the life of another. If plants interest you I highly recommend you check out The Complete Medicinal Herbal. This book covers absolutely everything you need to know about healing with plants. This will be important knowledge in a post societal collapse world.