Medical myths: Poinsettias are toxic

Dr Max Pemberton

They're a festive staple, but is there any truth to the rumours that poinsettia is poisonous? Myth-buster extraordinaire, Dr Max Pemberton, is on the case. 

Where did the myth come from?

It baffled me for years that the season of goodwill should be blighted by a deadly plant placed next to the turkey on the Christmas table.

Was this my mum's way of enforcing order? Start a row, and before you know it you'll have half a pot plant sticking out of your mouth and minutes to live.

How poinsettias got a reputation for being deadly isn't clear, but it might originate from 1919, when a young girl's death was attributed to her eating a poinsettia leaf. Also, some people with an allergy to latex are sometimes also allergic to the sap of the poinsettia, possibly causing people to assume it's poisonous.

 

What's the truth?

poinsetta

There have been a number of large studies into whether poinsettias are indeed dangerous. One looked at over a million cases of people consuming non-food plants and, of these, over 20,000 had eaten poinsettia.

There wasn't a single death and over 96 per cent didn't require medical attention. Those that did reported only nausea and vomiting. In nearly 100 of the cases, kids had eaten large amounts, yet not a single one encountered problems.

Similarly, studies on rats where they ate the equivalent of 500 plants each showed no ill effects.

 

So, there's nothing to worry about?

In general, if a child eats an unknown plant, it's wise to check with a medical professional that it's safe—there are a number of household and garden plants that can be toxic if eaten. But, while medics probably wouldn't recommend chewing on a poinsettia, it's unlikely to cause any real harm.

 

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