Photo by Natalie Ina.

Throughout human history, intentional application of poison has been used as a method of murder, pest-control, suicide, and execution. In Medieval Europe, it was common for monarchs to employ personal food tasters to thwart royal assassination, in the dawning age of the Apothecary. Many recipes for medicines included herbs, minerals, and pieces of animals (meats, fats, skins) that were ingested, made into paste for external use, or used as aromatherapy. Some of these are similar to natural remedies used today, including catnip, chamomile, fennel, mint, garlic, and witch hazel. Trial and error was the main source for finding successful remedies, as little was known about the chemistry of why certain treatments worked and certain treatments killed. Here are 10 most common plants that can kill:

  1. Manchineel: These trees are known to cause harm even without contact with the body. Break a twig, and the dripping white sap can cause damage, including rashes, skin irritation, coughing, loss of voice, etc. The dripping sap from these plants can even damage car paint. These apple-like fruits, if ingested, can cause blisters in the mouth, swell the throat to shut it off, and even cause gastrointestinal problems.
  2. Jimsonweed: The plant has been long related to spiritual and voodoo properties due to its hallucinogenic properties. Its alkaloids, which are responsible for the hallucinogenic and medicinal properties are fatally toxic and even a slightly higher dosage, can result in hospitalization and death. Even the nectar and petals of its beautiful white or lavender trumpet-shaped flower are dangerous. They, like the rest of the plant, are tainted with the toxins atropine and scopolamine.
  3. Aconite: Contact with the plant can cause tingling, numbness, and in many cases, heart problems. Consumption can lead to a burning sensation in the mouth followed by increased salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, a tingling sensation in the skin, changes in blood pressure, heartbeat irregularities, coma, and sometimes even death.
  4. White Snakeroot: In humans, symptoms include bad breath, loss of appetite, listlessness, weakness, vague pains, muscle stiffness, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, severe constipation, coma, and possibly death.
  5. English Yew: All parts except the bark are poisonous. Consumption of the leaves, and to a lesser extent the seeds, can lead to increasingly serious symptoms, including dizziness, dry mouth, dilation of the pupils, weakness, irregular heart rhythm, and possibly death.
  6. The Castor Bean: Symptoms of castor poisoning include nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, internal bleeding, and kidney and circulation failure. Many people suffer from an allergic reaction to the dust from the seeds and may experience coughing, muscle aches, and difficulty breathing. Exposure to the dust is most common in areas where the beans are processed for commercial use.
  7. Deadly Nightshade: The deadly poison attacks the nervous system, rendering the nerve endings in involuntary muscle paralysis. Symptoms include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, headaches, confusion, and convulsions. As few as two ingested berries can kill a child, and 10 to 20 berries would kill an adult.
  8. The Rosary Pea: Symptoms of rosary pea inhalation poisoning are difficult breathing, fever, nausea, and fluid in the lungs. If ingested—and the seed coating is broken—rosary pea seeds cause severe nausea and vomiting, which eventually leads to dehydration and ends with the kidneys, liver, and spleen shutting down. Death usually follows within three to four days.
  9. Water Hemlock: Water Hemlock causes violent and painful convulsions, nausea, vomiting, cramps, and muscle tremors. Those who survive the poisoning experience long-term health conditions, such as amnesia. No amount of water hemlock root is considered safe to ingest.
  10. Oleander: Oleander is poisonous to most animals as well as humans. Ingestion of oleander leaves has caused deaths in human beings. Though the toxin remains deadly for approximately the first 24 hours after ingestion, the odds of survival increase dramatically if the patient survives for a few hours. For successful treatment, the patient is induced to vomit, their stomach may be pumped, or they may be fed activated charcoal to absorb as much of the poison as possible.

Story by Travis Orta.