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Poisonous British Plants

Many British plants are poisonous to a greater of less extent. The leaves, fruits and roots of many plants act as irritants when they are eaten, but in others the effect is much more than merely irritating and is definitely poisonous, especially monkshood, deadly nightshade, and foxglove.

The root of monkshood is dark brown outside and white inside, and from it is obtained aconite and preparations made from it. In appearance the root is very like horseradish and has often been mistaken for it. When it is taken by mistake there is a severe tingling sensation and burning in the mouth, followed by numbness. In an hour or two vomiting usually takes place, and is severe in character. The burning sensation begins to be felt in the stomach, and the skin is cold and clammy. The pupils of the eyes become enlarged, and the eyes are staring. The pulse becomes irregular and there is a feeling of suffocation.

Deadly nightshade is well known in English hedges and woods, and is recognized by its clusters of small purple flowers with orange contres, usually found climbing among a tangle of other plants in the hedges. Later on the flowers turn into bunches of bright scarlet berries, and as they ripen about the same time as the blackberries and often grow among them they are easily eaten in mistake by children. The symptoms of poisoning are great dryness of mouth and throat, enlarged pupils of the eyes, vomiting, palpitation, and in advanced stage, delirium.

The purple foxglove is well known in the English countryside, but it is also specially cultivated, for its leaves is obtained the important heart stimulant, digitalis. This is a poison in any but small doses. The symptoms of digitalis poisoning include vomiting and slowing of pulse beat.

Other common English plants that cause poisoning are laburnum, cuckoo-pint, black and white bryonies, common hemlock, including cowbane, fool's parsley and water-dropwort, privet and holly, and yellow vetchling. Toadstools and other fungi may be poisonous. They can be distinguished from the harmless edible ones by their bright colour, a bitter taste and an unpleasant smell. All of these poisonous plants cause vomiting and diarrhoea, cramps, and sometimes drowsiness and convulsions.

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