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Galanthus nivalis, snowdrop


Saying 'the bulbs are mistaken for onions' seems improbable but it is this error which causes most of the cases of poisoning by snowdrop.

Blog Entries

Read more about Galanthus nivalis, snowdrop, in these blog entries;
Unusually early flowering shows nobody told nature the rules



Meaning of the Name

From the Greek ‘gala’, ‘milk’ and ‘anthos’, ‘flower’.
Either as white as snow or growing in snow. Literally, ‘snow-covered’ or ‘snow-like’.

Galanthus nivalis

Galanthus nivalis, snowdrop

Common Names and Synonyms

snowdrop, death’s flower, maids of February

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

The whole plant is poisonous but especially the bulbs. It contains two alkaloids, narcissine (lycorine) and galantamine as well as the glycoside scillaine (scillitoxin).

Poisoning most often occurs when the bulbs are mistaken for onions. Initial symptoms are dizziness, stomach ache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Most people recover but a fatal dose is said to result in trembling and convulsions prior to death.


Galanthus nivalis in woodland

Galanthus nivalis under trees

A couple explained how the wife had been out for the day leaving the husband to prepare dinner. When she came home he said he had used up the shallots. Knowing she did not have any shallots, the wife realised that he had put snowdrop bulbs into the meal. The meal went into the bin and they had bread and jam for tea. The husband was a farmer so if farmers can't tell the difference between onions and poisonous bulbs there is little hope for the rest of us.

Folklore and Facts

As the first flower of spring, it symbolises purity and a clean start after winter. The flower appears on Candlemas Day.

When Adam & Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden into a land of winter, an angel blew on some snowflakes which grew as snowdrops to show that there is hope in even the direst predicament.

A single flower indicates impending death and it should never be brought into the house.

In October 2010, the UK's National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) authorised the use of a number of drugs believed to slow the progress of early onset Alzheimer's disease. One of these is galantamine which was first used, in eastern Europe in the 1950s, to deal with memory impairment. NICE said that recent research had shown a cost effective benefit from the drugs.

Galantamine can be extracted from a number of genera, including Galanthus, though G. nivalis is not one of the plants used commercially.


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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