Insider Info: Medicine or Poison

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Native plants

A surprising number of beautiful flowers cause skin irritations and a host of medical emergencies if ingested. Likewise, some of the lowliest flowering weeds are not only good to eat but also can cure what ails you. What’s more, some flowering plants are partly edible and partly toxic.

These 10 flowering plants might surprise you with their therapeutic or poisonous properties:

  • Lilies. The leaves and flowers of all lilies, if ingested, can lead to kidney failure. Lily of the Valley, peace lilies, wild hyacinth and Star of Bethlehem are among the most dangerous. Some people take extracts of Star of Bethlehem as an herbal cure for heart disease, but more likely, it will lead to heart failure.

  • Rhododendron. Nothing is more mesmerizing than a walk through a woodland engulfed with blooming rhododendron, but don’t taste these flamboyant flowers, which can cause nausea, vomiting, malfunction of the central nervous system, coma, even death, depending on the dosage.

  • Foxglove. All parts of this garden favorite, which can also be found in fields and on roadsides, can cause diarrhea, vomiting and heart failure. Ironically, the heart medicine, digitalis, is derived from foxglove. This drug is carefully formulated and administered in controlled dosages. Never mix foxglove into home remedies, teas or food!

  • Nightshade. Several common foods, including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, are nightshades, which have toxic and non-toxic parts. For example, in potatoes, the green parts of the plant and its flowers contain a neurotoxin, which causes gastric distress, headache, delirium, shock and paralysis. Cooking eliminates the trace amounts of the toxin in the tubers, which we eat.

  • Dandelions. This ubiquitous weed deserves a lot more love. Native Americans used it as a laxative  and to cure liver, kidney, joint and gallbladder issues and anemia. All parts of the plant are edible, including the flowers. They contain vitamins A, C and D, iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium.

  • Chamomile. Early Egyptians used chamomile to relieve skin irritations and as an anti-inflammatory. Today, it is valued as a source of antioxidants and for its calming, anti-depressant qualities. Its leaves and flowers are usually dried and crushed to make tea, which can also relieve mouth sores, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, anxiety and insomnia.

  • Iris. Irises are another flower with benign and poisonous parts. Iris flowers are toxic if eaten, causing severe mouth irritation, stomach pain, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. However, iris root, if dried and peeled, is used to safely treat skin infections, venereal disease, water retention (dropsy) and stomach problems.

  • Daisy. A daisy infusion (tea) can be used as a laxative and to treat cold symptoms. Some people rub it directly on their skin as a home remedy for arthritis and rheumatism. Daisy ointments can also help heal minor skin wounds.

  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea). Native Americans used this super-flower to treat inflammation, colds, flu and fungal infections. It’s a potent anti-bacterial. If you start to feel sick, a cup of echinacea tea might reduce the severity of your symptoms.

  • Rose. A valued source of vitamin C, people also eat rose petals or drink rose tea to relieve depression and as a mild laxative. Many soothing face creams contain rose petals. While all parts of a rose bush are edible, only the petals from the sweet-smelling varieties taste good.

It's a Fact

Early pioneers stuffed coreopsis (tickweed) into their bedding to get rid of fleas, bedbugs, and lice.

Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Writer/photographer Lisa Ballard is an Ike from Red Lodge, Montana.