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Daphne mezereum (mezereon), spurge olive

Summary

A very common plant which few people realise is poisonous and which was used as a cosmetic until the damage caused by the rosy glow it produced was understood.

Blog Entries

Read more about Daphne mezereum (mezereon), spurge olive, in these blog entries (most recent first);
What decides whether a plant gets into a list of 'most poisonous'?

Family

Thymelaeaceae

Meaning of the Name

Daphne
The name Daphne comes from the Greek myth that Daphne appealed to Aphrodite to save her from a lustful god so she was turned into a tree.
 
mezereon
Said to derive from the Persian word māzariyūn but no meaning for this word has been found other than a return reference to mezereon and mezereum.

Common Names and Synonyms

mezereum, mezereon, spurge olive, spurge flax, dwarf bay, wild pepper. Sometimes called D. mezereon.

Daphne mezereum, mezereum, mezereon

Daphne mezereum, mezereon

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

All parts of the plant yield an acrid, irritant sap though the bark and berries produce most. The sap contains an irritant, coumarin, and a resin, mezerein. The resin is thought to be the principal poison though there are also glycosides present.

Non-fatal doses cause vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain and a burning sensation in the mouth. Larger doses add to these shivering, dilation of the pupils, convulsions and damage to the oral passages and the intestine.

The berries look quite like redcurrants and may attract children to try them but the acrid taste is a disincentive to large scale consumption.

The sap causes skin irritation resulting in redness of the skin.

Incidents

In 1887, a letter to the British Medical Journal reported a case of Daphne berry poisoning in a 4-year old girl. When first seen by the doctor, she had no symptoms and after being made to vomit, bringing up two berries, she was sent home. Two hours later, however, she was seen again having developed swollen lips, difficulty swallowing, rapid pulse and other symptoms. This time, she vomited half a dozen berries and recovered by the next morning. The letter writer assumes she must have swallowed the berries whole thus delaying the onset of poisoning.

No other incidents resulting from eating the berries have been reported but, in the 1950s, a seven year old boy required hospital treatment after eating some leaves.

Folklore and Facts

Daphne mezereum flower

Daphne mezereum in flower

The sap has, in the past, been used on the cheeks to produce redness thus avoiding the need to buy rouge. The effect results from damage to the blood vessels so long-term use had its price.

The name Daphne comes from the Greek myth that Daphne appealed to Aphrodite to save her from a lustful god so she was turned into a tree. As a result, virgins wear Daphne leaves to preserve their purity.

John Gerard notes its use against alcohol abuse since, being a violent purge, if a drunkard is given one berry to eat, the heat in his mouth and the choking in his throat will discourage him from drinking for some time. 

IMPORTANT NOTE

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