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Monkshood, angel's trumpet and castor bean - the risk of acute poisoning from plants

31/2015, 29.10.2015

The BfR brochure "Cases of Poisoning Reported by Physicians 2011-2013" includes documentation of poisoning accidents with plants

Toddlers are, especially now in autumn, particularly at risk of inadvertently ingesting poisonous flowers, seeds or fruit. This is demonstrated by poisoning incidents reported to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) by physicians, hospitals and poison information centres. Descriptions of these incidents have been summarised in the brochure "Cases of Poisoning Reported by Physicians 2011-2013". They include cases involving monkshood, angel’s trumpet and the ricinus seed of the castor bean plant. In general, most reports of poisoning accidents involve chemical products. However, about 10 per cent of cases are due to poisonous plants or mushrooms. In the years 2011-2013, the BfR documented a total of 13,225 cases of poisoning. The brochure "Cases of Poisoning Reported by Physicians" provides an informative overview of all reports from this time period - from exotic cases such as Ciguatera poisoning following consumption of snapper fish filets to allergic side effects resulting from a tattoo and cases of poisoning at the workplace. According to BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, "the reports and analyses of incidents of poisoning lead to a situation where poisoning risks for the population are recognised more quickly. Thus reports and analyses help to continuously improve the safety of products."

In the “Cases of Poisoning Reported by Physicians 2011-2013”, incidents of poisoning are adumbrated in connection with three of the most poisonous garden plants: monkshood, angel’s trumpet and castor bean (ricinus). Monkshood is even ingloriously known as “Europe’s most poisonous plant”. All parts of the plant contain aconitine which is more poisonous than the strychnine famously described in murder mysteries. For adults even a dose of about two to six milligrams of pure aconitine is fatal. Even skin contact when picking the impressive looking dark blue blossoms can lead to symptoms. However, often poisoning occurs because the bulb of monkshood is mistaken for celery or horseradish roots. Due to ignorance or because they are taken for parsley the leaves too occasionally end up in salads.

Angel’s trumpet is an ornamental plant up to five metres tall with conspicuously large, hanging trumpet-like blossoms. Here too, all parts of the plant are poisonous. In case of poisoning, the symptoms - especially confusion and loss of consciousness - can continue for up to two days.

Castor bean which is cultivated as an ornamental plant for its large purple leaves too is among the most poisonous plants. The castor bean plant forms red-brown capsules covered with soft prickles. The capsules contain bean-shaped seeds which are often collected. However, ricinus seeds are highly poisonous. In children, ingestion of as little as three to five well chewed seeds is sufficient for fatal ricin poisoning. Not only ingestion but also skin contact with the seeds, especially with pierced seeds as occasionally found on necklaces can cause severe allergic reactions. Since the hard seed shell is pierced, the poisonous substances could enter the skin directly. Children must never be allowed to handle such jewellery.

If you are unsure whether a poisonous plant has been ingested or skin contact has occurred, a call to one of the eight poison centres in Germany could help. The widely used BfR app “Poisoning accidents among children” which was awarded the German Prize for Online Communication in 2014 offers tips on how accidents can be avoided and provides information about first-aid measures.

The “Cases of Poisoning Reported by Physicians” presented here was compiled as an anthology for the years 2011-2013 and thus form a seamless continuation of the last reports from the year 2010. The collection provides an informative overview of the poisoning risks and key points of medical reports to the BfR. In the brochure which predominantly targets physicians, as well as hospital and emergency personnel, the BfR provides detailed descriptions of the symptoms, progression and therapeutic models for selected cases of poisoning. The brochure can be obtained free of charge from the BfR: Fax +49-(0)30-18412-4970, E-mail: publikationen@bfr.bund.de. It can also be downloaded at www.bfr.bund.de.

For further information about your obligation to report cases of poisoning and on unwanted product side effects in accordance with § 16e of the Chemicals Act, go to: http://www.bfr.bund.de/en/poisonings-10142.html

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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29.10.2015
Informationsbroschüre
Ärztliche Mitteilungen bei Vergiftungen 2011-2013 (Die Broschüre liegt auch in englischer Sprache vor.) 3.1 MB
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