Dangerous Herbs

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Toxic and Poisonous Herbs

Be a smart herbalist, and know what's safe - and what's not. Image by Bethel Fath/LOOK/Getty Images

If you’re using herbs in your magical practice, as many of us do, it’s important to keep in mind that they may not all be safe to handle or ingest. Many herbs are fine for people, but toxic to household pets. Still other herbs can be used by anyone but pregnant women. Let’s look at some of the different herbs you may be using in magical practice, and how they can be dangerous if you’re not careful.

Do keep in mind that this is not – and is not intended to be – a list of every toxic or harmful herb. It is a list of some commonly used herbs that can be dangerous to pregnant women or household pets. If you’re using a particular plant and you’re not sure if it’s toxic or not, then do your homework and make sure it’s safe to use before you do anything with it.

Herbs Dangerous to Pregnant Women

If you’re pregnant, attempting to become pregnant, or nursing, you’ll need to exercise extra caution when working with herbs. Many can cause miscarriage if ingested. Before taking any herbs internally – or, for that matter, handling them with bare hands – be sure to check with your healthcare professional to make sure they’re safe.

The following are just a few of the many herbs out there that can be harmful to pregnant women.

  • Angelica: Can cause contractions
  • Basil: Can induce menstruation
  • Black cohosh: Can cause miscarriage
  • Catnip: Uterine stimulant, can cause contractions
  • Comfrey: Can cause liver damage in both the mother and fetus
  • Feverfew: Can bring on menstruation, may also cause birth defects
  • Goldenseal: Can induce miscarriage
  • Mistletoe: Can induce miscarriage
  • Mugwort: Can stimulate menstruation, may also cause birth defects
  • Pennyroyal: Can stimulate uterine contractions
  • Rosemary: Can cause contractions
  • Yarrow: Can bring on menstruation

Herbs Dangerous to Household Pets

Let’s face it, many of us have four legged family members, and the last thing we want to do is inadvertently harm them by leaving dangerous herbs lying around. If you believe your pet may have ingested an herb that is dangerous, call your vet immediately.

The following are just a few of the many herbs out there that can be harmful to dogs and cats.

  • Buckeye: Can cause vomiting and diarrhea in both dogs and cats – excessive consumption can lead to seizures and muscular tremors.
  • Chamomile: Can cause diarrhea and vomiting in both dogs and cats
  • Foxglove: Can lead to abnormal or elevated heart rate, arrhythmias, and even death in cats and dogs.
  • Holly berries: Can cause gastrointestinal upset, drooling and head shaking in cats and dogs.
  • Jimson weed: Can lead to dilated pupils, anxiety, light sensitivity and restlessness, not just in cats and dogs, but in larger animals as well, including horses and cattle.
  • Mistletoe berries: Can cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain in both cats and dogs. Excessive amounts ingested can lead to death.
  • Pennyroyal oil: Although the dried leaves of the pennyroyal plant are generally harmless, the essential oil can cause liver failure if ingested. It has also been shown to induce miscarriage in pregnant cats.
  • Tobacco: Can cause anywhere from moderate to severe vomiting, elevated or abnormal heart rate and respiration, overstimulation, or even paralysis or death in both cats and dogs.

Avoiding Dangerous Herbs

There are a number of ways to avoid poisoning yourself - or your pets and family members - with herbs, and nearly all of them involve using some basic common sense. First, familiarize yourself with herbs and their side effects; pick up a good herbal almanac, or a field guide to the local herbs in your area, particularly if you plan to go wildcrafting. Another way to virtually guarantee your own safety is by not ingesting an herb that you're unfamiliar with. Use your magical herbs in sachets, to dress candles, or stuff poppets, but don't eat or drink them unless you're absolutely certain it's safe to do so. Finally, keep in mind that many herbs are listed by folkloric names, so when you're doing your research and homework, make sure you study them based upon their scientific names and classifications; this will help to ensure that what you're looking at and what you think you're looking at are in fact the same things.

The bottom line? Use caution and common sense, and if you're in any doubt about an herb's safety, don't use it.