The great outdoors is filled with plants that have mystifying properties. You’ll find plants that heal just outside your front door. You can find plants that kill, too. But what about plants that do both?
Plants that heal and kill offer some of the most interesting natural resources. Learning about these plants can be fascinating — and just might save you from making the wrong choice when you’re out foraging.
While the list of plants that heal and kill can grow long, let’s take a look at some of the most notorious ones in existence.
Most people recognize foxglove by its tall spires of pretty, bell-shaped flowers. But this plant does far more than just beautify woods and roadsides.
Today, we consider foxglove a weed. While the plant comes from Europe, it has spread and thrived in North America long enough for the USDA to call it invasive. However, some people still use it for ornamental purposes.
The name “foxglove” comes from an old Anglo-Saxon term “foxes glofa,” meaning “glove of the fox,” since the flowers look like fingers from a glove.
This dangerous plant contains enough toxin to kill, even in small doses. Every part of the plant has poison that can affect the heart.
Symptoms of foxglove poisoning include changes in heartbeat, confusion, blurred vision, weakness, and headache. If someone sustains foxglove poisoning over a longer period, they might even hallucinate.
In spite of this danger, foxglove plays a key role in modern heart medicine. Chemicals from the plant are used to make prescription medicines that can strengthen the heart. However, it’s not safe to use foxglove to treat yourself.
In the calla lily, we find another pretty flower and another one of the plants that heal and kill. These striking white, cup-shaped flowers offer more than meets the eye.
The calla lily’s name comes from “calla,” the Greek word for beauty.
According to Greek mythology, Zeus tried to trick his sleeping wife, Hera, into nursing baby Hercules. But when Hera woke up, she pushed the baby away. The drops of milk that landed in the sky became stars. The ones that landed on Earth became calla lilies.
Today, calla lilies remain beloved in floral arrangements for weddings, funerals, and other occasions.
Raw calla lilies are toxic. The plant can cause stomach pain, throat swelling, burning sensations, and other unpleasant symptoms. And, like foxglove, it doesn’t take much of the plant to kill a person or animal.
While some lilies can safely be eaten, calla lilies technically aren’t true lilies and aren’t safe to eat.
However, they do get used in medicine sometimes. In South Africa, the plant’s native homeland, people sometimes use calla lily leaves and stems boiled in milk to dress wounds.
These evergreen shrubs have bright, striking blooms that grace many home gardens — and they’re also another of the plants that heal and kill.
In the U.S., oleanders arrived in Texas from the Caribbean in 1841. Their popularity spread fast in the surrounding residential areas.
However, the history of oleanders stretches back further than that. These shrubs decorated homes in the ancient world too: they’ve been found in the gardens of Pompeii, preserved by the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius.
Every part of the oleander plant contains poison. Oleander poisoning may affect the mouth and throat, eyes and ears, stomach, heart, and even nervous system. It often resembles foxglove poisoning, with similar effects on the heart.
While these plants that heal aren’t suited for self-medicating, they’ve still been used as medicine many times.
In traditional medicine, people heated oleander roots and breathed in the vapors to treat colds. Some also used oleander leaves to treat skin conditions. And in traditional Egyptian medicine, oleander was a cancer treatment.
Blue cohosh doesn’t look as striking as the other plants on this list, but it does have blue fruits and blue-green foliage that make it easy to recognize.
In the past, Native Americans primarily used blue cohosh as one of their plants that heal. This plant never gained the ornamental popularity of the others on this list, though, so it remains unpopular for anything other than folk medicine.
The chemicals in blue cohosh can damage cells. In fact, even simply touching parts of the plant can irritate skin and mucous membranes. While blue cohosh doesn’t offer the aggressive poison of these other plants that heal and kill, it’s still important to avoid eating it, especially the berries.
Traditionally, blue cohosh got used for many purposes in women’s and reproductive health. You can use it to induce labor and treat menstrual cramps, for example.
However, it’s also been used to induce abortion. Today, modern medicine avoids blue cohosh, since it can harm fetuses and newborns.
More Plants That Heal and Kill
In the above list of plants that heal and kill, none are suitable for home remedies. However, if you want to harness the healing power of plants, you can try one of these anti-viral, antibacterial, or anti-parasitic alternatives.
These herbs can kill viruses, bacteria, and parasites without causing you harm:
- Aloe vera: This plant helps skin heal and even clears acne, thanks to its antibacterial properties
- Goldenseal: This antibiotic herb can also treat colds and allergies
- Garlic: You might already use garlic in cooking, but you can also use it to ward off cold and flu viruses
- St. John’s Wort: This popular plant for treating depression and appetite loss has anti-viral properties in high doses
- Tea tree: Tea tree offers a fresh scent, but helps kill parasites like lice too
- Birch: The oil of birch can combat fungal infections, ringworm, acne, and other skin conditions
What Will You Do with Plants That Heal and Kill?
The world contains many plants that heal — but only some of those healing plants can kill, too.
The four main plants that heal and kill on this list aren’t safe for self-medication. They can only serve decorative purposes — and only if you know no children or animals nearby will try to eat them.
But our shortlist of anti-viral, antibacterial, and anti-parasitic plants offers many safe uses. What will you use these natural remedies for — or have you tried them already? Leave a comment and share your experience!