An increasing number of Virginians searching for leeks are being poisoned when they instead mistakenly gathered the highly poisonous false hellebore. To help Virginians avoid accidental poisonings, an updated, expanded book to help residents identify and avoid poisonous plants found in Virginia is now available as a free download.
“The Socrates Project – Poisonous Plants in Virginia” is designed to be an easily read resource for parents and the general public as well as medical providers. Filled with full-color photographs, the publication is a ready reference for identifying the 25 poisonous plants that grow in the wild in Virginia.
This work is a collaboration between the Virginia Master Naturalists Program – a statewide corps of volunteers providing education, outreach and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas – the Blue Ridge Poison Center at UVA Health, and the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Division of Medical Toxicology.
The book project began when members of the Old Rag Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists Program learned that hundreds of exposures to poisonous plants are reported annually in Virginia. Young children are often attracted to poisonous plants growing outdoors, and adults sometimes mistake a poisonous species for an edible one while foraging for wild plants.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to people spending more time outdoors and sparked an increased interest in foraging for wild foods, which can lead to accidental poisoning.
“Our experts become quickly concerned when they receive a Poison Center call about somebody who has intentionally eaten a plant they harvested from the wild,” said Dr. Christopher Holstege, medical director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center and the toxicology consultant for the book. “Children often eat just a few berries. But a forager is more likely to consume a large amount. This can lead to more serious health effects.”
The book can be downloaded for free by visiting med.virginia.edu/brpc/Socrates. If you believe you may have consumed a poisonous plant, contact your local Poison Center at 800-222-1222 for medical advice.