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Abrus precatorius, jequirity bean, rosary pea


Contains a very highly toxic substance but does not seem to have caused fatal poisonings in the past few decades. Its use in jewellery is, however, not very wise.

Blog Entries

Read more about Abrus precatorius, jequirity bean, rosary pea, in these blog entries (most recent first);
The problem of getting people to understand what you say (or write)
The Eden Project recalls bracelets made of rosary pea seeds.



Meaning of the Name

Probably, from arbor, the Latin for tree or shrub.

Relating to prayer, a probable reference to the use of the seeds to make rosaries.

Common Names and Synonyms

rosary pea, jequirity, jequirity bean, crab's eye, John Crow bead, precatory bean, Indian liquorice

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

Abrus precatorius contains the toxic lectin, or toxalbumin, abrin. Abrin is similar in structure to ricin the toxin in Ricinus communis. It is often described as deadly and some newspapers have claimed that it is twice as toxic as ricin. Occasionally, rosary pea and castor bean get confused and the impression is given that they are the same thing.

Abrus precatorius, jequirity bean, rosary pea

Abrus precatorius, jequirity bean, rosary pea
courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Though abrin is believed to be present throughout the plant, the seeds attract the greatest attention. as is often the case, they have an indigestible outer casing and there have been reports of them passing through the digestive system without harm.

If chewed or crushed to release the abrin, poisoning can occur. Some say that one crushed seed is sufficient to cause death but the literature contains one paper detailing the case of an intended suicide who had thoroughly crushed a number of seeds and ingested the powder before thinking better of it and seeking medical care. The subject, a 27-year old male, suffered severe gastrointestinal symptoms but was fit for release from the emergency department after eight hours and a follow-up, one month later, showed no long-term effects.

It appears that abrin is only very slowly absorbed by the body and, therefore, swift action after ingestion should prevent severe consequences.


The International Poisonous Plants Checklist gives twenty references to papers concerned with Abrus precatorius poisoning though only one, from 1969, is obviously about a human fatality involving a 2-year old child.

Abrus precatorius, jequirity bean, rosary pea

Abrus precatorius, jequirity bean, rosary pea
Courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture

A 1978 case is reported but appears to be a successful suicide rather than accidental ingestion.

There are reports of deaths in children in the 1940s, '50s and '60s in Florida where the plant can be found growing in the open but the absence of more recent fatalities may be the result of improved care.

The plant does not feature in any of the American Association of Poison Control Centers' (AAPCC) annual reports from the National Poison Data System (NPDS) since, at least, 2004.

A 2007 case report describes the death of a 30-year old woman who was believed to have chewed the seeds. Her death resulted from swelling of the brain and the paper states that this symptom had not been seen before with abrin poisoning.

A 2008 paper reported the case of a 27-year old male who chewed a number of seeds intending to commit suicide but then sought immediate medical help and survived after an very unpleasant gastrointestinal upset.

Also in 2008, a 19-year old in India attempted suicide using Abrus precatorius seeds. He suffered very severe poisoning but, again, survived partly because, following the 2007 case, he was given a brain scan. Another paper from India, in 2008, reported on two cases in one of which the subject died before medical support could be provided.

A 2010 paper gives another case, involving a 20-year old, but, in this incident, the young man refused to acknowledge that he had chewed and swallowed rosary pea seeds until his father brought the rest of pack to the hospital. Nonetheless, he recovered fully and suffered no long-term consequences.

In February 2017, a man in Oxford reported feeling dizzy after handling a single seed. The street on which this happened was closed off. Two fire engines, police and two ambulances attended, and the Fire & Rescue Service sent along hazardous material specialists. Two people were given a high pressure shower in a decontamination unit. This expensive overreaction is typical of the hysterical response to both this plant and the castor oil plant. 

Folklore and Facts

The reputation of rosary pea seems to come from the similarity in structure and action between ricin and abrin. It seems likely that, like ricin, the theoretical toxicity is much more significant than the actual harm caused. Certainly, given that the theoretical toxicity is very much higher than ricin, the dearth of fatal case reports supports this.

The seeds are an attractive red with a black spot on them and have been used for many years in South America to make necklaces and bracelets as well as, as the common name suggests, rosaries.

There are persistent reports that the workers who pierce the seeds in order to thread them onto a string suffer poisoning but there seems to be little evidence. An online search found 265 scientific papers referring to Abrus precatorius but not one of them dealt with occupational poisoning.

In December 2011, it emerged that the Eden Project, one of the UK's best known visitor attractions, had sold around 2,800 bracelets, over two years, made of Abrus precatorius seeds. Following the discovery, buyers were asked to return the bracelets for a full refund.


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Abrus precatorius, rosary pea
Aconitum lycoctonum, wolfsbane
Aconitum napellus, monkshood
Actaea racemosa, black cohosh
Actaea spicata, baneberry
Aesculus hippocastanum, horse chestnut
Amanita muscaria, fly agaric
Aquilegia atrata, columbine
Aristolochia clematitis, birthwort
Artemisia absinthium, wormwood
Arum italicum, Italian cuckoopint
Arum maculatum, cuckoopint
Aspergillus fumigatus
Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade
Brugmansia suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Bryonia dioica, bryony
Buxus sempervirens, common box
Camellia sinensis, tea
Cannabis sativa, marijuana
Catha edulis, khat
Chelidonium majus, greater celandine
Cimicifuga racemosa, black cohosh
Claviceps purpurea, ergot
Clematis vitalba, old man's beard
Colchicum autumnale, naked ladies
Conium maculatum, poison hemlock
Convallaria majalis, lily of the valley
Cynoglossum officinale, hound’s tongue
Daphne mezereon, spurge olive
Datura stramonium, thorn apple, jimsonweed
Datura suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Delphinium, larkspur
Digitalis spp., foxglove
Dracunculus vulgaris, dragon arum
Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss
Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite
Erythroxylum coca, cocaine
Euonymus europaeus, spindle tree
Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge
Euphorbia pulcherrima, poinsettia
Fritillaria spp., fritillary
Galanthus nivalis, snowdrop
Hedera helix, common ivy
Helleborus spp., hellebore
Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, bluebell
Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane
Ilex aquifolium, holly
Jacobaea vulgaris, ragwort
Juniperus communis, common juniper
Laburnum anagyroides, laburnum
Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce
Leucojum aestivum, snowflake
Lithospermum officinale, gromwell
Lolium temulentum, darnel
Malus 'John Downie', crab apple
Mandragora officinarum, mandrake
Mercurialis perennis, dog’s mercury
Narcissus, daffodil
Nepeta faassenii, catmint
Nerium oleander, oleander
Nicotiana sylvestris, tobacco
Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort
Papaver somniferum, opium poppy
Pastinaca sativa, parsnip
Polygonatum odoratum, angular Solomon's seal
Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel
Pulsatilla vulgaris, pasque flower
Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup
Rheum x hybridum, rhubarb
Rhododendron spp.
Rhus radicans, poison ivy
Ricinus communis, castor oil plant
Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary
Rumex obtusifolius, broad-leaved dock
Ruta graveolens, rue
Salix alba, white willow
Salvia divinorum, sage
Scutellaria laterifolia, Virginian skullcap
Senecio jacobaea, ragwort
Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade
Solanum melongena, aubergine
Strychnos nux-vomica, poison nut
Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry
Symphytum spp., comfrey
Taxus baccata, yew
Toxicodendron radicans, poison ivy
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Urtica dioica, stinging nettle
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Viscum album, mistletoe
Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree