4 "Poisonous" Herbs Used in Western Medicine

Updated on December 16, 2013
kittythedreamer profile image

Kitty is an avid gardener. She enjoys sharing with others what she's learned about gardening herbs, flowers, and tropical plants.

Poppies are said to be poisonous...but aren't they used to make medications?
Poppies are said to be poisonous...but aren't they used to make medications? | Source

Poisonous Herbs: Beware! But they're in our meds?

For centuries our ancestors used the plants and natural resources around them to feed and heal themselves. There were medicine men, shamans, wise women, healers, and even "witches" who were in touch with the earth around them so deeply that they knew the ways of healing through these simple things we call "herbs". When Western Medicine was established and when Doctors and pharmaceutical companies had completely taken over and formed a business of "healing", the ways of the earth and these healing herbs were lost. Or at least most of us thought they were.

What is interesting is that many of these herbs are used to make medications by the same pharmaceutical companies who label these herbs as "poisonous" or "dangerous". That is not to say that all herbs and plants are completely safe, but these terms used in the same sentence as herbs is an exaggerated white lie at best, and it is used to scare the public into using only the medications provided to us via the pharmaceutical companies of modern society.

Take a small tour with me and let's learn about some of these poisonous plants and herbs and see just how poisonous they really are...and we'll also note how these plants are used in medications manufactured all over the globe.

Illustration of the Atropa Belladonna plant that is also used to make an anti-spasmodic medication.
Illustration of the Atropa Belladonna plant that is also used to make an anti-spasmodic medication. | Source

Poisonous Atropa Belladonna - A Painkiller and Antimuscarinic?

Beware the poisonous Belladonna plant! One berry can kill you instantaneously. Or at least that's what we have been told for years. Is this necessarily true?

I began learning about poisonous herbs' uses in the medical world after my interest was peaked in school. A pill was given to a patient that was literally called "belladonna". I asked the nurse whom was teaching me that day, "is this medication derived from the poisonous herb belladonna?" To which he responded, "oh no. It's just a medication." Obviously he had no clue what the medication consisted of, and so I went home and started doing some research.

I found that in fact the so-called "extremely poisonous and deadly" plant known as Atropa belladonna has a few chemical compounds that are used by the pharmaceutical companies for various reasons. Some of the medications that are derived from the Belladonna plants' ingredients include:

Belladonna - medication used as a sedative, and also used to calm whooping cough and other bronchial spasms. This same medication is used to treat colic, motion sickness, hay fever, Parkinson's and is also used as a painkiller. It also has indications in treating certain psychiatric disorders via a medication-filled transdermal patch.

Atropine - medication used to block the action of acetylcholine (a chemical mediator that your body makes) in order to decrease saliva and phlegm to control stomach spasms. It is also taken by mouth in order to treat IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), along with other ailments.

Hyoscyamine - medication derived from Belladonna and used as an antimuscarinic in order to treat GI disorders and in end-of-life palliative care to control saliva secretions. It has also been used as an adjunct medication with opioid to decrease a patient's pain levels.

Scopolamine - an anticholinergic and antimuscarinic. It is used to treat nausea and vomiting after surgeries. Also used for eye diseases and disorders. And is very closely related to Hyoscyamine as it is also used as an adjunct therapy to painkillers.

So what's the deal here? Why is it that we are told that the Atropa belladonna plant is very dangerous and yet its ingredients are used in pharmaceuticals?

Read about some "approved" edible and medicinal plants:

A beautiful red poppy
A beautiful red poppy | Source

Poppies - The Flower of Death or Life?

"Poppies. Yes, poppies will put them to sleep. Sleep. Sleep..." Wicked Witch of the West in Wizard of Oz

There is one particular type of poppy flower that is considered illegal to grow, own, buy, etc. in the United States and in other countries throughout the world: that is the "opium poppy" or the Papaver somniferum. This is a type of flower from which Opium and Poppy seeds are harvested. And if you were not aware, opium is used to make heroin, which is considered an illegal drug in the United States and elsewhere.

But in addition to making a dangerous and addictive street drug, the opium from poppies is also used by pharmaceutical companies to produce various opioids or better known as strong pain killers. Hospitals use morphine, codeine, hydromorphone, and hydrocodone to treat pain after surgery and other medical ailments. All of these forms of drugs are derived from the opium poppy.

While the opium poppy is portrayed as a dangerous and deadly flower, we can see that it also produces parts that can be used to the benefit of mankind. While these contents can be highly addictive in the wrong hands, they are also important in treating chronic pain disorders and in order to keep someone stabilized following drastic surgeries and procedures. If we look back in history, the opium poppy is an ancient flower that has been used for centuries to treat various stomach disorders, eye disorders, and of course for pain relief. We can also see that there has been struggle and strife over this beautiful flower in various cultures over time. Is this flower worth the addictions, the wars, etc?

Opioids are also used in end of life care in the United States, and in this manner are beneficial to the person who might be dying of cancer or other serious ailments. These drugs keep the person free of excruciating pain and help the dying person be able to transition to a more peaceful death than what they might have had without it. So is the poppy equal to death or beneficial for life? Should it remain illegal to grow, buy, etc?

Willow bark can be used to treat minor aches and pains, but the pharmacist might tell you it's deadly!
Willow bark can be used to treat minor aches and pains, but the pharmacist might tell you it's deadly! | Source

Willow Bark

The bark from various willow trees is used to make Salicilin. This type of medication is used as a treatment for pains such as menstrual cramps, muscle pains, arthritis, and gout. They are not a heavy pain killers such as the opioid family but they are considered a painkiller for more minor aches and pains.

The interesting tidbit about willow bark is that many doctors and medical companies will tell you that it is very dangerous and to never use this herb without consulting a doctor first. While willow bark can be dangerous if consumed in large amounts, it is also very beneficial for aches and pains as well as to treat colds, the flu, and other minor medical ailments. They also say that Willow Bark will slow your blood's ability to clot, and therefore can interact negatively with blood thinners and anticoagulants. If taken in large doses, willow bark can cause kidney failure as proven in the death of Beethoven.

Here's my question, though. Which is safer to take for minor aches and pains, organic and unprocessed willow bark in capsule form or processed and chemical aspirin? Is willow bark really as dangerous and deadly as they say it is or is it another one of the plants that the pharmaceutical companies warn us against in order for them to increase their sales in aspirin?

Foxgloves are beautiful garden flowers...but they are also "deadly" and used in heart medications!
Foxgloves are beautiful garden flowers...but they are also "deadly" and used in heart medications! | Source

Foxgloves - To Help Your Heart or Kill Yo

Foxgloves are a common flower one might find in a garden; however, they are considered to be deadly little plants. This plant's scientific name is Digitalis purpurea and it is used in order to make medications for the heart. These medications are known as cardiac glycosides, and they work by increasing your heart's contracting abilities and also by controlling incorrect heartbeats (or arrhythmias).

The issue with Digitalis as a cardiac drug is that it is commonly taken in the form of a drug called Digoxin. Digoxin can be rather deadly in that it is a powerful drug. Before taking Digoxin one must make sure their heartrate is no less than 60 beats per minute...otherwise Digoxin can ultimately slow the heart so much that it can cause death. This drug can also be toxic in that it can build up in one's system very easily causing "dig-toxicity" which can lead to kidney failure and death.

Grow foxgloves in your garden, but be aware what medications you are taking and how they can affect your body...even the dainty foxglove!

What do you think?

Should these herbs be considered deadly and/or be illegal?

See results

Wrapping It Up - What's the Point?

The whole point to this article was to draw attention to the fact that pharmaceutical companies and the medical industry try to dissuade the general public from using many herbs, including herbs that they call "deadly" and/or "dangerous". While some of these herbs and plants are ultimately dangerous such as the Foxglove and Poppy, there are other herbs out there on the market that these companies dissuade us from using...benign herbs such as basil, rosemary, pau d' arco bark, cayenne, etc.

The question is - is every herb dangerous or are we being told this to keep us from nature's medicine which would ultimately decrease the proceeds to pharmaceutical companies? Everything should be taken into consideration and taken in moderation. While I do not encourage everyone to go hunting for nightshade and use it to treat stomachaches, what I am saying is to do your research and try something natural before resorting to a life-long regimen of a medication that is worse for your body than something all-natural.

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Kitty Fields


    Submit a Comment

    • Melissa Meadow profile image

      Melissa Meadow 

      3 months ago from United States

      Wonderful article, Kitty.

      Herbs and plants are one of my most favorite subjects so I enjoyed this read very much.

      Poppies are so beautiful and I've always thought so. Foxgloves are gorgeous in the garden...so unique and charming to the eye. They're a big hit with the Fae.

      I find the "poisonous" plants get such a bad rap and therefore I tend to have an affinity for them more so. I think that often, people forget or do not realize that many plants are poisonous that we eat from regularly...potatoes being one of them.

      I'm catching up on your articles as I've been away from HP for years (I was here then with a different username). Love your books, btw. The Cotton Family is good reading :)

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      3 years ago from New Zealand

      Excellent article.

      We have lost lambs eating the wild foxgloves in the countryside.

      Congratulations for HOTD you deserve it.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 years ago from USA

      It's hard to know what the true story is on these herbs. I do believe a lot of the dissuasion is with pharmaceutical companies trying to get us to take their manufactured drugs instead of growing them ourselves. I use to take willow bark for pain. It worked. I guess we all need to be cautious and study up about things we are unfamiliar. Your hub is a wonderful start with excellent information about some common herbs. And, by the way, congratulations on receiving the Hub of the Day award.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      How very interesting. I knew about the poppies but not the rest. Congratulations for been chosen the hub of the day. Well deserved.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Big congrats on another informative Hub of the Day! Well deserved for providing important info. Cheers!

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Interesting! I think you have given a good message here.We need to be careful using herbs. They can have a good name and still be dangerous. Thank you!

    • RTalloni profile image


      3 years ago from the short journey

      Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this informative opinion piece. While we should definitely not use herbs medicinally without being fully educated on them, you are also right about science being used to scare people away from them.

      It's been very profitable for the companies to present their scientifically produced products as better than nature. We can't be dismissive of the benefits of true scientific research, but I just read an article about how studies are promoted as factually approved when in fact the results are not reproducible, all for personal/corporate profit… better stop rambling… :)

      Love posts that provoking thinking/discussion…congrats again.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Kitty, what an interesting hub on medicinal herbs that can help you or kill you. Lovely photos! Congrats on HOTD!

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      3 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      Congrats for the HOTD! This is a very interesting and informative hub. I did not know that poppies are poisonous flowers.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Pretty amazing that something that can do us harm can be turned into something that can be lifesaving.

      Well done...so very informative....

      Congrats of HOTD

      Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

    • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

      Kitty Fields 

      3 years ago from Summerland

      poetryman - Exactly! I couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you!

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      3 years ago

      I am fond of the notion that there is a flip side to every poison found in nature. In order to be biologically active and useful, there almost always has to be a such thing as too much of a " good thing.

    • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

      Kitty Fields 

      3 years ago from Summerland

      Kristen - Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great information Kitty on poisonous herbs. There's so much I did and didn't know about them.

    • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

      Kitty Fields 

      5 years ago from Summerland

      Eric - Ditto!

      WiccanSage - I completely agree. Just takes a little research and effort. :)

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      5 years ago

      Great article and you make a good point. Herbal remedies can be a great alternative, if people are willing to really do their homework. Even some popular kitchen spices can be dangerous in large doses so it does take some research but you can save a ton of money & a few trips to the doctor for minor things. Plus you can save your body from some of the side effects of chemical meds.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Peace be in your home from my crazy home with me the wingnut and my 3 year old.

      Keep helping me to see good in plants!!

    • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

      Kitty Fields 

      5 years ago from Summerland

      Ericdierker - I agree. It is much easier for people to get these things from their doctors and pharmacies than to do their own research and find their own medicines. But that's just the way that it is. I also agree that it's silly that many of these plants they say are poisonous are actually beneficial.

      FlourishAnyway - Thank you.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      Interesting information. I like that you presented a variety of examples. In the end, so much of the access issue probably comes down to money first and safety second.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I just started cracking up reading this. I have used them all naturally.

      I would add psilocybin as a serotonin disruptor

      And peyote as a healer of joint dysfunction and depression.

      We had tens of tens of rituals and "gurus" to guide and make appropriate. Preparation and certain exercises and other "ingestibles" need be taken for some time prior. But results are awesome.

      It is a whole lot easier to just go to a drug store.


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