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NEWSLETTER

Are poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly plants poisonous?

Poinsettia's dangers


Could a plant that is so popular during the holidays also be so dangerous? What problems does it cause if it is dangerous? Is it necessary to eat it to cause difficulties, or is it enough to simply be around it? Why does the misconception persist if it isn't dangerous?

In truth, the negative rep may have begun in 1919, when a child of an army officer died after eating a portion of a poinsettia plant. Many additional accounts indicate mild symptoms like nausea or vomiting, but no deaths, so it's unclear if the plant was to blame.

A study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine about two decades ago looked at nearly 23,000 cases of persons eating poinsettias and discovered.


no fatalities.


Almost the bulk of the cases (96%) did not require any therapy outside of the house.

The vast majority of cases (92 percent) showed no signs or symptoms at all.

To get close to an amount that could cause problems, a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 poinsettia leaves, according to one estimate. Pets may experience gastrointestinal issues after eating poinsettias, but these plants do not pose a significant risk to animals.

Mistletoe's dangers


For mistletoe, the story is similar. It's not especially harmful, but it can give you an upset stomach if you consume it. Mistletoe has been used as a treatment for arthritis, high blood pressure, infertility, and headaches for ages. However, none of these uses have high-quality evidence.

The plant's potential as an anticancer therapy has also attracted interest. Some mistletoe extracts contain compounds that have been demonstrated to destroy cancer cells in the lab and stimulate human immune cells. Alkaloids, for example, have qualities that are similar to several chemotherapeutic medications used to treat leukemia and other cancers in the past. However, a two-part review published in 2019 concluded that combining mistletoe extracts with traditional cancer treatments had no effect on survival or quality of life.

No one thinks that eating this plant, whether unintentionally or not, is a good idea. According to the authors of a 1986 assessment of many research, eating one to three berries or one or two leaves is unlikely to cause serious sickness. In one report of over 300 cases of mistletoe consumption, no major symptoms or deaths were reported. However, some sites warn that if enough is consumed, significant complications or even death may result. The exact quantity required to cause death is unclear, although it appears to be so high that ingesting enough to be lethal is extremely uncommon.


Holly's risks


People and pets may be harmed by this plant. Poisonous berries can be found on holly plants. They might cause stomach cramps, sleepiness, vomiting, and diarrhea if consumed. While eating holly is not recommended, it is unlikely to result in death. Knowing the Latin name of at least one variety of holly would be enough to keep you from eating it: the yaupon holly is also known as Ilex vomitoria.

Last but not least


Poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly should never be eaten, but little amounts are unlikely to cause significant sickness. The risks of these plants appear to me to be much exaggerated.

The choking hazard berries represent for young children is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of mistletoe and poinsettias, while this risk is not exclusive to plants: any small object carries equivalent risks. Plants for the holidays should be kept out of reach of small children and pets. Also, keep in mind that berries from these plants may fall to the ground.

Check with poison control, your pediatrician, or your veterinarian if a child or pet eats leaves or berries from these seasonal plants or any other plants. However, unless a particularly big "dosage" has been eaten, don't be surprised if the advice is to merely wait and watch.

Even if you know the dangers are modest, are you still concerned? You may always regift seasonal plants to friends who don't have kids or dogs or come up with alternative methods to adorn your home for the holidays.

poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly plants

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No content on this site, regardless of date, should be used to replace direct medical advice from your doctor or another trained practitioner.
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