Once in a while a really good reference book comes along that should be on every library's shelf.
Most adults avoid eating unidentified plants but we are all being nudged to be more aware of which plants can be harmful to our pets and children.
I grow several plants that I know are poisonous - castor beans, iris, oleander, many houseplants, and nightshades such as tomatoes and potatoes. But we don't have pets or children on our place eating random leaves or tubers.
We also have regular outbreaks of mushrooms on our property - we don't eat any of those either because we don't know the difference between the harmless ones and the ones that would make us sick.
A couple of years ago when I went flower picking to make Queen Anne's Lace jelly, the boggy area where it grew was also host to hemlock that is awfully similar. I had to memorize the details of each flower structure to ensure a poison free product.
This well-illustrated reference would be helpful to all of us who interact with nature, but especially to novice gardeners, young families, teachers and pet owners.
The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms: How to Identify More than 300 Toxic Plants and Mushrooms Found in Homes, Gardens, and Open Spaces - written by Nancy J. Turner and Patrick von Aderkas, was published by Timber Press in 2009.
The authors selected plants that commonly occur so the book would serve as an easy to use, ready reference.
I love their practical approach to the topic. They acknowledge the pre-science uses of the plants and how often plants are confused by the uninformed.
Also! I keep activated charcoal capsules in the house at all times. It's value as a digestive aid is underestimated by most families. The authors say that activated charcoal will also take care of most cases of mild plant poisoning. Second to that, drink milk and get the activated charcoal at the hospital emergency room.
And, on the topic of mushrooms - of the 5,000 named species only 100 are poisonous. With that said, mushroom poisonings are on the rise. Really, people, look before you eat. Oh, well, then they go on to say that most of the poisonings are children under the age of 6.
The book is well organized, with each plant described and illustrated. Where it is usually found, which bits are toxic, and notes of interest follow.
For example, burning bush, which is commonly found in back yard hedge rows is poisonous all over - leaves, bark and fruit. Children sometimes eat the plant parts but the result is rarely serious.
In the back there is a list of fruits, vegetables and beverage plants with their ingestion issues. For example, apple seeds contain a cyanide producing compound which is harmful if eaten in quantity.
It's a fascinating read that you'll pick up again and again. Check out Dr. Turner's bio here and Dr. von Aderkas here.
$29.95 from Timber Press and $15 online.