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Buxus sempervirens, common box


This evergreen shrub is, generally, thought of as purely decorative but it has an important role in keeping witches from entering the house or, when used as a border, from stealing plants in the garden.

Blog Entries

Read more about Buxus sempervirens, box, in these blog entries;
Box, witches and Terry Pratchett



Meaning of the Name

Latin for 'box' and believed to derive from its use to make small, finely carved boxes known in Greek as pyxos.  But Buxus is also Latin for flute so the name may come from its use to make flutes.
‘semper’ is Latin for ‘always’ and ‘virens’ is ‘green’.

Common Names and Synonyms

common box, evergreen boxwood

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

Contains the alkaloid buxine which causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. The leaves are poisonous to humans but its unpleasant odour and bitter taste tends to minimise its ingestion. Farm stock, especially cattle are said to have grazed box bushes if they get into gardens. Death may occur through respiratory failure.

 Contact can cause skin rashes and the clippings should be handled with care.


Anecdotally, said to cause poisoning in farm animals. There are two papers, in French, one from 1973 and the other from 1986 describing the poisoning of calves.

Folklore and Facts

Buxus sempervirens, common box

Buxus sempervirens, common box

Witches use knowledge as power and, hence, can tell you the numbers of every branch, every twig and every leaf of every plant - except box. The plant is so compact and the leaves so small that when a witch tries to count them she, inevitably, loses her place and has to start again. This leads to its being planted near the door of a house so that a witch, seeking entry, will be found counting its leaves, over and over.

Planting it as a border around a flower bed will also distract any witch wishing to steal plants from the garden for use to make the hallucinogenic salve which gives the impression of flying.

The principal alkaloid in Buxus is buxine which causes respiratory paralysis in humans and livestock. Other alkaloids are present in smaller amounts and one of these, cycloprotobuxine has been investigated as a chemotherapeutic agent in cancer therapy but, so far, has not gone beyond investigation.

Trials by French workers seemed to show that an extract from box was helpful in reducing the amount of HIV virus in an infected person. This work was done before the present antiretroviral drugs were available and there is no indication that further trials are being undertaken.

In the French trial some subjects were given a low dose of the box extract, some a high dose and some a placebo. Those on the low dose responded well but those on the high dose exhibited some side effects of vomiting, diarrhoea, muscular spasms, and paralysis.

The plant can be subject to fungal attack, called box blight, and large populations are particularly susceptible. In November 2012, the Alnwick Garden Poison Garden was forced to close to allow removal of all the box hedging as a result of blight.


The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.


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Introduction to the A to Z section
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
Thevetia peruviana, yellow oleander
Urtica dioica, stinging nettle
Veratrum album, white hellebore
Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein
Vinca major, greater periwinkle
Viscum album, mistletoe
Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree