Herbal medicine is a wonderful thing. Nature made some miraculous plants that can feed our bodies, soothe our souls, and enchant our vision. As with anything “too much of a good thing can be dangerous”. Herbs can be dangerous and in some cases even fatal. Each year people delve into the world of natural medicine searching for alternatives to traditional medicine. Unfortunately, each year people jump into a world they no little to nothing about and take for gospel what they may read. Not everyone should be suggesting herbal remedies for ailments. Just as not everyone has a medical background and can not practice medicine, unless someone has a background in the study of herbs – they too should not practice herbalism on others. Having a deep respect for nature is of utmost importance. Every plant and herb has a purpose, that purpose just may not have anything to do with medicinal remedies.
Among some of these dangers are those who misidentify plants. Some herbs look so familiar to the untrained eye that they are often mistaken for one another. Cases of misidentification have been reported across the country with horrific results. One story in particular comes to mind. An elderly couple plagued with arthritis heard of the wonders of comfrey tea to relieve the aches and pains. Deciding to give the herb a try, the woman collected what she thought was comfrey in her own backyard. Within hours both husband and wife were dead. What the woman actually picked was foxglove which looks extraordinarily like comfrey, however, it is the source of the toxic heart drug digitalis.
Plant identification is not an easy one. Even trained experts sometimes take pause when looking at herbs. Many times the same plant can have so many varied species within it making identification complicated. There is an old saying that goes like this “He who self-medicates has a fool for a doctor”. Any time anyone is seeking out herbs as an alternative form of medicine, your health care professional should be consulted. Some one at a health food store may have amazing things to say about some herbal remedy, and to their defense for most people it is wonderful. But without your medical history, knowing what traditional medicines you are on, and your particular allergies, you could be in for a unpleasant result that may be mild to severe in complications.
There are a number of herbs that are dangerous, some poisonous, and even some that kills quickly. Some are only dangerous when taken over long periods of time. There are at least 36 different herbs that are listed with the FDA that are either dangerous or highly toxic. The FDA admittedly states the list is far from complete; however, it does list some of the most common herbs that can cause serious repercussions.
Aconite is very toxic and can be absorbed through the skin. There is no known antidote.
Aloe is a wonderful herb to heal external wounds and burns – taken internally is dangerous.
American or Black hellbore is a violent narcotic that effects the heart – it can kill.
Angelica contains carcinogens. Pregnant women will miscarry. It is also shown to induce skin cancer even without being in the sunlight.
Arnica is violently toxic to the heart when taken internally and can cause death.
Autumn crocus has been used to help with sexual problems however, as little as 7 mg can be lethal
Bayberry has been shown in laboratories to cause cancer when ingested.
Bloodroot was used by American Indians as a skin dye however ingested it can burn the stomach causing paralysis and even death.
Blue cohosh has been used to stimulate childbirth; however it is toxic to some people and has caused death taken by pregnant women.
Broom has been used to alter mood swings but when smoked has caused the respiratory centers to become paralyzed resulting in deaths.
Coltsfoot has been used for cough remedies. Try slippery elm bark instead. Coltsfoot has been shown to increase risks for liver cancer.
Deadly nightshade is often used as a sedative. Also known as belladonna, it can take as little as 15 minutes after ingesting to cause toxic results. Some only need to touch the sap of the plant to have toxic results.
Foxglove often confused with comfrey contains digitalis which can cause death quickly.
Hemlock has long been known to cause central respiratory paralysis followed by death.
Juniper has been used to flavor gin in the past but it is known to cause abortions to kidney failure in its pure form.
Lobelia is sometimes sold in aids to weight loss. Used over long periods, prepared incorrectly or taken in to high of dosages is toxic and death has resulted from improper use of this herb.
Mistletoe traditionally used to kiss beneath is a wonderful holiday addition but ingested will cause agonizing convulsive death.
Pokeweek has been employed for chronic rheumatism but overdoes are fatal.
Rue may live up to its name as an insect repellent but those who even touch that are pregnant will most likely abort.
St Johns wort is commonly suggested these days for many things such as tranquilizing action and increasing blood flow; however, in some people it causes loss of eyesight, swelling of the face, and reducing capillary fragility.
Sassafras is well known as an ingredient in many teas, but it also has been shown to cause degeneration of the heart, liver, and kidneys. Safrole is a chemical constitute of sassafras and is banned for use in any foods. That should give a hint of the potential danger.
Yohimbe has been used as an aphrodisiac as it causes tingling in the genitals; however, it dilates the blood vessels and can cause blood pressure to plummet to dangerous levels.
This is by no means a complete list of even the FDA’s list. It is a list of the more common herbs used medicinally or ones that are so toxic they should be avoided at all costs.
Herbal medicine is a wonderful alternative to assist with a great variety of ailments. Nature has provided many benefits for the human body. Many herbs have shown promise as curative medicines. However, they can also be dangerous if you are not familiar with them. Be sure to consult a holistic or homeopathic professional before self-medicating yourself with herbal supplements. It could be your life.