Help Identifying Common Poisonous Plants and Tips for Avoiding Them

Help Identifying Common Poisonous Plants and Tips for Avoiding Them

As the weather grows cooler, more and more of us will be outside enjoying the crisp fall air.  I was hiking over the weekend with my family and couldn’t help but notice the lush greenery along the trials. But what struck me more, were the bright red berries and white mushrooms scattered throughout the greenery.  While the scenery is beautiful to look at, it’s also important to know what to avoid.   

As a nurse and certified specialist in the Drug and Poison Information Center, I have a unique perspective about poisonous plants to keep my family safe out on the trail. I’d like to share this knowledge with you, so that you can steer clear of the biggest risks in the great outdoors. Here are a few poisonous plants you’re likely to encounter in the Midwest and tips for avoiding an exposure:

Mushrooms

mushrooms

Our Drug and Poison Information Center receives many calls each year regarding mushroom exposures (73 calls in 2018 alone).  Often, it is related to a child that picks up a mushroom or piece of a mushroom and puts it in their mouth.  Usually these are mushrooms that have sprouted up in the backyard and are often referred to as field mushrooms.  Often these mushrooms are associated with stomach upset and can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. 

We also occasionally get calls regarding people who have foraged for mushrooms.  There are many toxic mushrooms that grow in the wild, particularly in wooded areas. Toxic mushrooms can look very similar to nontoxic mushrooms and as a result, it is very difficult to differentiate the different types of mushrooms, even for people who feel they are experienced mushroom foragers. Only an experienced mycologist could effectively differentiate between a toxic and nontoxic mushroom. This time of year, we often receive cases of patients who’ve foraged for mushrooms and eaten them and have become very ill.  Some mushrooms can cause liver failure, kidney failure and other serious medical conditions as well as death. Because it is almost impossible to differentiate a nontoxic mushroom from a toxic mushroom, ones that grow wild should never be eaten.

Berries

Berries of elder growing in the autumn wood.

Backyards, walking trails and fields are often covered with berry producing plants.  Some often look alike and it is often hard to determine which berries are edible and which are not.  Many non-edible berries can cause stomach upset including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea when eaten.  Other berries can cause more serious problems including heart problems. It is recommended to avoid eating any wild berries.

Hogweed

Giant hogweed is something that you may have heard about in the news.  It is a large plant that can grow up to 15-20 feet. It contains a sap that makes skin very sensitive to UV radiation.  Exposure to the sap may lead to blistering and burns to the skin, following sun exposure.  It is recommended to avoid contact with this plant.

 

If you suspect someone has eaten a harmful plant, berry or mushroom, contact your local Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

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Alysha Behrman, RN, CSPI

About the Author: Alysha Behrman, RN, CSPI

Alysha Behrman, RN, MSN, CSPI, ICPS is a Nurse, Certified Specialist in Poison Information and an Internationally Certified Prevention Specialist with 20 years of experience at the Drug and Poison Information Center Hotline at Cincinnati Children’s.

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