Poisonous Plants! How to avoid them and what to do when your child eats them.

Are you interested in getting your kids outside more often but you’re concerned about safety?

Are you worried about the possibility of your children eating toxic berries or touching poison ivy?

We all have those concerns, but outdoor family time doesn’t have to be controlled by them!

You can get outside more often with your kids and feel confident in nature! It’s all about risk management and having a plan.

Your plan should start and end with poison control. They are your “one stop shop” for identifying the organism, helping you understand treatment options, and ensuring your child’s health and safety.


Add 1-800-222-1222 to your contacts

This number is programmed in your contacts? Right!?

The only time you might not want to use the 1-800 number is when your phone call is routed to a different state than the one you are in. This will happen if you are visiting another state or if your phone’s area code is not from the state you are currently living in. For example, I have a Texas area code but live in New Mexico. Because of my Texas area code, all my calls are routed to the Texas Poison Control office.

When dealing with poisonous plants (or venomous animals) it’s best to call the sate poison control office that you are currently in. The reason for this is simple. The people assisting you deal with YOUR poisonous plant on a frequent basis and therefore have personal experience that goes far beyond what someone can read off a database. They don’t just talk with families when a child encounters a toxic plant. They discuss treatment options with your doctors and they follow up with the child when they go home. These experiences are incredibly valuable and translate into high quality healthcare for your family.

Your go-to place for any encounter with a toxic plant or animal should be poison control.

Know the poisonous plants in your region

It’s a good idea to have a general idea of what you could encounter on your outdoor adventure. One of the easiest ways to do this is by searching online for “poisonous plants” + your state or region. When I search “poisonous plants New Mexico” the first result is a post written by New Mexico’s Poison & Drug Information Center. In fact, many state poison control offices have great educational resources that help you understand what organisms could be a danger to your child and what to do if you encounter them.

Poisonous Plants in New Mexico (New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center)

Venomous Snakes in New Mexico (New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center)


If (when) your child touches or eats a poisonous plant

1. Take Photos

Many of you may not be familiar with local plants, and that’s okay, because poison control can identify the plant for you if they have the right photos. When taking photos, focus on these shots:

  • Take a photo of the flower or fruit.
  • Take a photo of the leaf structure by making sure that you have the branch and 3-4 leaves in the shot.
  • Take a photo of the entire plant, preferably with perspective. If the plant is small, put your hand in the shot. If the plant is tall, have someone stand next to it.
  • If you only have plant remnants (of what your child just ate), take a picture of those.

This is assuming your child is not having an immediate reaction. If they collapse, have a seizure, or stop breathing, call 911.

2. Call Poison Control in your state

Poison control will help you identify the plant and then suggest a safe course of action.
Here are their suggestions for what to do if you encounter a toxic plant:
  • If ANY plant is eaten, take out what is left in the mouth and rinse with water.
  • If skin is exposed to a toxic plant, wash with water and soap. Remove all clothing that has come into contact with the plant.
  • Call 1-800-222-1222 right away for treatment advice. Do not wait for symptoms to appear!
  • Call 911 if a person collapses, is not breathing, or has a seizure.


What can I do to prevent my child from encountering a poisonous plant?

You can’t prevent bad things from happening but you can decrease the probability of those things happening through risk management – know the dangerous organisms in your area and what to do if your child encounters them. Even staying indoors may not be effective risk management! According to poison control, household plants are one of the leading causes of poisoning in children.
Here are some suggestions from poison control to decrease the risk of your children having an encounter with a poisonous plant:
  • Know your plants: ask your local garden center for help identifying plants in and around your home. (You can call the Poison Center to find out if a plant is poisonous.)
  • Teach children not to put leaves, stems, bark, berries, seeds, nuts, or any other part of a plant into their mouths.
  • Remove mushrooms from your yard on a regular basis.
  • Teach children to never touch, taste, or eat an outdoor mushroom.
  • Do not think that a plant or berry is safe to eat because an animal or bird eats it.
  • Keep all poisonous plants, bulbs, seeds, and plant foods where children and pets cannot reach them.
  • Do not rely on cooking to destroy poisons in plants.
  • Be careful when using plants as medicines or herbal drinks.

Why should you listen to me?

Because I found my toddler foraging on nightshade berries the other day and we spent a very eventful evening talking with poison control and visiting the ER.  Story coming soon!


Thanks for reading,

Dr. Jenny

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