Survival in the wilderness is not usually something that crosses most of our minds on a regular basis. Short of an apocalypse, most of us won’t find ourselves scavenging in the wilderness for food. But on the off chance that we decide to take a hike through the forest, and end up finding ourselves lost, knowing what vegetation is safe to eat might be handy—especially since many of our common fruits and veggies have serious doppelgangers out there in the wilderness. Of course, there’s always the chance that you’ve gone all “back to nature” and decided to become a forager—in that case we hope that you’ve taken the time to educate yourself. The main issue is that if you do find yourself lost and hungry, you may end up a bit delirious, which can lead to some fatal decisions. It’s kind of like going to the grocery store after you’ve skipped lunch and worked out. Everything looks appealing—even some of the things that you wouldn’t normally dream of eating.
On the other hand, some of the most dangerous plants are lurking in your own garden—which probably comes as a huge shock to you (and if you have children that eat everything around them, beware), so be sure to take a look at this list to safeguard your yard.
Here are just some of the plants that could kill you;
If you think that you’ve found bay leaves growing in your backyard, double check that they aren’t rhododendron leaves. Referred to as the “suicide bush” by native Americans, this plant contains a toxin called grayanotoxin. Produced by the plant’s nectar, the poison is found most prominently in the leaves, with the entire plant is toxic to both humans and animals if consumed in significant amounts. Causing lovely things like nausea, vomiting and general weakness, this plant is as dangerous as it is pretty. On the upside, you’d have to eat a lot of it to actually die (for instance, a 50 lb. child would have to eat 100-225 grams in order for him/her to be in severe danger). Note: Also watch out for azaleas, as they carry the same toxin.
9. Poison Ivy
You’re probably like, “Yes, I totally know that poison ivy is dangerous and obviously I would never eat it.” Which is fantastic—hopefully you know what it looks like so that you can avoid it—as the vine can change in appearance. It can look anything like a weed during its development to a fuzzy vine when it matures (it can even grow as tall as four feet). While it is fairly common knowledge that the vine can cause some serious itchiness, what you might not know is that it can spread its oil over your boots and clothing, leading to contact later on—when you’re literally out of the woods. Here’s something that you might not know—burning poison ivy is actually extremely dangerous, due to the presence of urishiol within the plant. According to outdoorlife.com, the toxin can bond to your skin, also causing a painful itch/burn.
Producing a lovely little fruit that bears a lively resemblance to an heirloom tomato, horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) is far from your typical tomato. While this plant may be related to the favoured salad garnish (they are both part of the nightshade family), it is a distant and dangerous cousin, containing alkaloid solanine, which can cause circulatory and respiratory issues, and a significant amount of abdominal pain.
So if you’re foraging in the forest, steer clear of these little beauties, no matter how plump and juicy they are. Consider eating your shirt instead.
7. Wild cherry
When you think of a cherry, you probably don’t think of cyanide. Shockingly, wild cherry trees (Prunus avium) can be fairly toxic, even if their fruit is edible. As the leaves begin to wilt, they can produce a pretty decent concentration of cyanide (as can the pits of the fruit when ground up). While we don’t imagine that you’d go for the leaves if you had access to the fruit, animals have been known to eat up the leaves, which can lead to fatalities. Luckily, they aren’t native to North America, making them a little more difficult to stumble upon. Unless you’re hiking in Japan.
6. Castor beans
Most of us are pretty familiar with castor oil, but what you might not know is that these tiny beans (which are not actually beans, but seeds) contain enough of the lethal toxin ricin to take out a fully-grown human. After it is heated to a certain point, the bean loses its toxicity (alas castor oil), but before that, exposure to the seed can cause nerve damage—permanently. So if you have one of these plants in your garden, try to keep it contained as the seeds really do look like little beans.
Most people have this beautiful flower growing in their gardens. Unfortunately, every part of the oleander plant (Nerium oleander) is poisonous when ingested, or burned. Their sap, a white, sticky substance, contains a toxin called cardenolide glycoside, which is a type of steroid that can cause heart problems. So as pretty as these flowers are, it’s best to wash your hands after handling them, and if you have children, maybe consider keeping these flowers out of your yard until they are old enough to understand that eating them could be lethal (and definitely don’t try to incorporate them into your salads). Another surprising and super common garden flower? The daffodil—it has numbing properties.
4. Rosary Pea
A seed with many nicknames (crab’s eye, jequirity), the rosary pea (Abrus precatorius) comes from a legume that is most commonly found in India. Often used in beading due to its beauty, the rosary pea contains abrin, which is extremely lethal to livestock and humans—causing liver failure, nausea and sometimes death. In some cases people have died after simply pricking a finger while handling the seed during beadwork, or from inhaling dust from the kernel. Making the plant’s seeds as dangerous as they are beautiful.
3. Virginia Creeper
Bearing a considerable similarity to poison ivy, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) differs in the number of leaves it carries (it has five, while poison ivy only has three). While the plant has been known to cause a rash, that really isn’t the most potent aspect of the vine. The berries are actually extremely poisonous—to the point of fatality. Meaning that yes, people have died from eating the purple berries.
The name is adorable—the consequences not so much. While it’s totally fine if your dog goes to town on this teeny purple berry, you should try to restrain yourself. The pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) is extremely potent. A mere handful could kill a child, and helping yourself to a little more could take you out, too. Luckily, these berries are pretty recognizable—with pinkish purple stalks, with the capacity to grow as tall as 8 feet—and usually heavy with delectable little berries, of course.
1. Deadly Nightshade or Belladonna
Native in parts of Europe, Asia and North Africa, deadly nightshade, or belladonna (Atropa belladonna), is now fairly common in North America. These dark purple berries look a little like blueberries to a child, so beware. With the root being the most potent, the leaves and berries are also fairly dangerous, due to a toxin called atropine, which can cause hallucinations, dizziness and an increase in a human’s heart rate. If you’re not the most observant, the taste of nightshade will throw you off immediately—it’s extremely bitter. But let’s hope you never get that far—it can take as much as a leaf to take out an adult, and as little as three berries to potentially kill a child.