Poisonous Plants: Forewarned Is Forearmed

Poisonous Plants: Forewarned Is Forearmed
Poisonous Plants: Forewarned Is Forearmed

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We are not used to wondering why certain plants are poisonous. Just took into account once and for all that some plants or their fruits can be pulled into your mouth, while others are not worth it. But sometimes in the subconscious area, the question still flashes - why not, why is it dangerous? For those who ask themselves this question, this article is addressed. The main task is not to scare her, but to warn her, to show where and what danger can lie in wait, as well as thanks to what substances some plants are especially dangerous. As the ancients said: "Tantum possumus, quantum scimus" (Forewarned is forearmed).

Aconite klobuchkovy, or pharmacy
Aconite klobuchkovy, or pharmacy

Aconite klobuchkovy, or pharmacy

Foxglove woolly
Foxglove woolly

Foxglove woolly

Oftentimes, we just don't know that a well-known plant can be deadly. For example, gardeners have a rule not to plant poisonous plants in children's institutions. Datura, foxgloves, Cossack juniper are included in the black list. But in recent years, a stream of previously unknown plants has poured into our decorative market. And in books on ornamental gardening, they do not always write about the possible danger. The good news is that we still do not live in the tropics and, according to A.P. Efremova (2001), in the middle zone of the European part of Russia, out of more than 2 thousand species of our native higher (vascular) plants, less than 10% can be classified as poisonous to one degree or another. Moreover, more than half of them are weakly poisonous and do not pose a threat to human health. In addition, the likelihood of poisoning with many toxic plants is very small,since they do not have attractive fruits or seeds and are practically not used in everyday life. Only about 1% of the plants growing in this region pose a mortal danger, among them Aconite apothecary, colchicum, Cossack juniper, foxglove, wolf bast. Although not harmless representatives of the tropical flora also made their way to the window sills (See the article Poisonous indoor plants).

In equatorial countries there are more poisonous plants than in temperate countries, and the poisons contained in them have a stronger effect. If these plants are grown in more northern latitudes, then they noticeably lose in their harmfulness, which is explained by a decrease in the content of toxic substances.

Lobular nightshade
Lobular nightshade

Lobular nightshade

How can poisoning happen? Most plants show themselves when eaten internally. Some species have attractive-looking juicy fruits (daphne, nightshade, belladonna, buckthorn, laxative joster, some honeysuckle, etc.), others have leaves similar to edible plants (dog parsley). But these poisonings mainly happen out of ignorance, and in children - through parental oversight. Recently, cases of poisoning with potent medicinal plants or poisonous species similar to them have become more frequent. For example, the fruits of the common juniper (which heals) and the Cossack juniper (which cripples) are often confused. Poisoning can also occur with an overdose of drugs (infusions, decoctions, tinctures). So, trying to be treated, think 10 times and consult your doctor.

Juniper Cossack
Juniper Cossack

Juniper Cossack

In some species, vapors are toxic, when inhaled, the mucous membranes are damaged and even the general intoxication of the body (marsh ledum). And other plants just have a very strong smell that provokes a headache. Therefore, bouquets of some plants (lily, lily of the valley) should not be placed in the bedroom.

Sosnovsky's hogweed
Sosnovsky's hogweed

Sosnovsky's hogweed

An insignificant part of the plants can cause local skin lesions on contact with them (especially with sap) of open parts of the body. Two directions of action can be distinguished here. The first is photosensitizing, that is, it enhances the skin's sensitivity to ultraviolet light. Such plants include Sosnovsky's hogweed, sowing parsnip. Another group that cause irritation or allergic reactions are nettles, milkweed, wolfberry, ash.

Deadly wolfberry
Deadly wolfberry

Deadly wolfberry

Diktamnus, or Caucasian ash
Diktamnus, or Caucasian ash

Diktamnus, or Caucasian ash

In the Far East of Russia (southern Kuril Islands, southern Sakhalin), there is an eastern toxicodendron growing in the form of a liana, it is also dubious sumac (Toxicodendron orienfale), upon contact with which, especially when its juice gets on the skin and mucous membranes, severe burns are formed, and then severe general poisoning of the body develops. Other members of this genus, distributed mainly in America, have a similar effect.

Toxicodendron rooting
Toxicodendron rooting

Toxicodendron rooting

The picture of a maidservant being poisoned with sumac in the French feature film "Angelica and the King" is shown very effectively, but greatly exaggerated. There Angelica whips the girl in the face and hands with a nightgown, sprinkled with powder from sumac leaves, and before her eyes the servant's face and hands are covered with terrible burns, and after a few minutes she dies. In fact, the symptoms of poisoning develop much more slowly, after a few hours or even days.

Most of them know the poem of A.S. Pushkin's "Anchar". Anchar is a tree up to 40 m tall, growing on the islands of Java and Borneo. And in fact, the plant is nowhere near as poisonous. Milky juice is poisonous in it, but its effect is rather weak. Therefore, other, even more poisonous plants were additionally used to prepare poison for arrows. But at the time of Pushkin, such details were not yet known.

Sometimes poisoning can occur when eating honey collected by bees from poisonous plants (wild rosemary, wolf bast, hellebore, buttercup, henbane, dope, belladonna, avran, raven eye, etc.), as well as milk and meat from animals that have eaten toxic plants (aconites, poisonous milestones, hemlock, buttercups, crocus, hellebore, etc.). There are known cases of poisoning with blueberries, on which toxic essential secretions of wild rosemary have condensed (when grown together).

Chemeritsa Lobel
Chemeritsa Lobel

Chemeritsa Lobel

Belladonna officinalis
Belladonna officinalis

Belladonna officinalis

It is interesting that living organisms are not equally susceptible to various poisons. For example, belladonna has a strong effect on humans, is dangerous for cats, dogs and birds, weakly affects horses, pigs and goats, and for rabbits it is practically harmless. But the fruits of anise, caraway seeds and dill, which people love to use as a spice in cooking, are far from harmless to birds.

The poisonous properties of plants are associated with the content of biologically active substances of various natures. The most dangerous are alkaloids and cardiac glycosides. It is these plants that pose the greatest danger not only to health, but also to life.

Alkaloids are nitrogen-containing organic compounds with the properties of weak alkalis. To date, about 5,000 alkaloids are known. In plants, alkaloids are usually found in groups (up to 20 or more) in the form of salts of various organic acids (malic, citric, acetic, oxalic, succinic, etc.). They are usually confined to certain families, for example, Poppy, Buttercup, Liliaceae, Solanaceous and some others. Their content in various parts of plants ranges from fractions of a percent to 10-15%. In the free state, most alkaloids are hardly soluble in water and easily soluble in organic solvents: alcohol, ether, acetone. Their salts, on the contrary, are easily soluble in water. In this form, they are easily absorbed, entering the digestive tract of humans and animals.

Bittersweet nightshade
Bittersweet nightshade

Bittersweet nightshade

Cardiac glycosides are biologically active substances with a lactone ring. Depending on the structure of lactone, they are divided into cardenolides (with a five-membered a-, b-unsaturated lactone ring) and bufadienolides (with a six-membered doubly unsaturated lactone ring). In large doses, they are heart poisons, but in small doses they improve the activity of the heart. Cardiac glycosides are found mainly in plants from the family Brassicaceae, Apocinaceae, Asclepiadaceae, Liliaceae, Iridaceae, Ranunculaceae, Fabaceae, Scrophulariaceae, Scrophulariaceae (Celastraceae) and several others. Bufadienolides have also been isolated from the skin of toads and some fly agarics.

Lastoven
Lastoven

Lastoven

Other groups of chemical compounds are less dangerous:

Essential oils are volatile substances (usually liquids) with a characteristic, often pleasant smell. Chemically, they are a mixture of various compounds. They contain terpenes carbohydrates (monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes), which are often the only constituent of the essential oil, and their oxygen-containing derivatives - terpenoids (alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, epoxides, and acids). Essential oils are insoluble in water but dissolve easily in organic solvents.

Saponins and their glycosides belong to the group of natural glycosides with hemolytic (dissolving red blood cells) activity. Steroid saponins are found in plants of different families, but mainly in species of the lily family (Liliaceae), Dioscoreaceae (Dioscoreaceae), legumes (Fabaceae), Ranunculaceae (Scrophulariaceae). Saponins have a burning bitter taste, irritate the mucous membrane of the digestive tract, causing reflex excitement of the center of vomiting and increasing bronchial secretion. They pose the greatest danger when they enter the blood directly, as they cause hemolysis of erythrocytes. However, when saponins are taken internally, their resorptive effect is not manifested, since they are almost not absorbed in the alimentary canal.

Dioscorea Caucasian
Dioscorea Caucasian

Dioscorea Caucasian

Anthraquinones can cause subacute poisoning (reduce the level of hemoglobin and red blood cells, disrupt liver and kidney function, the balance of vitamin C in the body, and irritate the respiratory tract). The severity of the toxic effect of anthraquinones depends on their chemical structure, but the nature of the action is the same for everyone. These compounds are most often found in plants of the buckwheat family (Rhamnaceae) and buckwheat (Polygonaceae).

Coumarins have a wide range of pharmacological actions. One of the most important biological properties of one of the groups of coumarins - furocoumarins - is their photosensitizing effect, that is, the ability to significantly increase the body's sensitivity to sunlight, as a result of which severe burns can form on the skin. Furocoumarins are found in many plants of the umbrella family (Apiaceae).

Organic acids make up a large group and play an extremely important role in plant metabolism. Most of them are non-toxic. Only hydrocyanic and oxalic acids are dangerous. The first is a product of enzymatic breakdown of cyanogenic glycosides formed in a number of wild and cultivated plants (seeds of apricot, almond, cherry, bird cherry, etc.). The second one is found mainly in rhubarb, sorrel and sour in the form of salts (potassium oxalate), less often in a free state. It does not cause poisoning as such, just with constant ingestion of its salts are deposited in the form of oxalate stones.

Bird cherry Maak
Bird cherry Maak

Bird cherry Maak

Oxalis ordinary
Oxalis ordinary

Oxalis ordinary

Currently, there are several classifications of poisonous plants. Their construction is based on various principles: botanical, chemical and clinical. They are in demand by specialists from different branches of science. For botanists, it is most interesting to identify the patterns of accumulation of certain substances in connection with the systematic position of the plant. For example, the confinement of certain types of alkaloids to one or separate families (for example, nightshades tend to accumulate alkaloids of the tropane group).

For chemists, the pathways of biosynthesis of toxic substances in plants and, accordingly, their mutual transformations under the influence of certain conditions are of interest.

For doctors, the most convenient classification is based on the principle of similarity of the clinical picture. The doctor, when dealing with human poisoning, first of all encounters the peculiarities of the patient's clinical condition; the latter is the starting point in the process of establishing a diagnosis of poisoning, indicates which measures at the moment can bring the maximum benefit.

Here is one of the schemes proposed back in 1962 by I.A. Goose.

I. Plants primarily causing central nervous system (CNS) symptoms:

1). Plants that cause excitation of the central nervous system (belladonna, henbane, dope, ephedra, poisonous milestones);

2). Plants that cause excitation of the central nervous system and simultaneously act on the digestive tract, heart and kidneys (juniper, thuja, tansy, marsh rosemary, wormwood, buttercups, marigold, lumbago, raven, ash);

Marsh marigold
Marsh marigold

Marsh marigold

3). Plants that cause depression and paralysis of the central nervous system (hypnotic poppy, celandine, corydalis, hemp);

4). Plants that cause depression and paralysis of the central nervous system and simultaneously act on the digestive tract and the cardiovascular system (aconite, sheep, colchicum, hellebore, broom, gorse, hemlock, dog parsley, kirkazon, male shrimp).

II. Plants that mainly cause symptoms of damage to the gastrointestinal tract (gastrointestinal tract) and simultaneously act on the central nervous system and kidneys (euphorbia, calla arum, ginseng, steppe, sedum, soapwort, nightshade, laxative joster, buckthorn).

III. Plants that mainly cause symptoms of heart damage (foxglove, lily of the valley, kupena, raven eye, lakonos, wolfberry, clefthoof, euonymus).

European hoof
European hoof

European hoof

IV. Plants causing predominantly liver symptoms (ground plant).

V. Plants causing suffocation phenomena (apricot, elderberry, mouse peas).

Vi. Plants with a photosensitizing effect - increasing the body's sensitivity to ultraviolet rays (hogweed, parsnip).

Vii. Plants causing symptoms of salt metabolism disorders (oxalis, rhubarb, sorrel).

VIII. Plants that cause allergic skin reactions (nettle).

There are even special tables for interviewing the patient in order to quickly identify the cause of the ailment and take appropriate action.

Photo: Maxim Minin, Rita Brilliantova

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