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The ranunculus or Asian buttercup (bot. Ranunculus asiaticus) is a popular ornamental plant from the species-rich buttercup family (bot. Ranunculaceae). The spring bloomer is planted in gardens and parks because of its large flowers reminiscent of hybrid tea, but can also be cultivated as a balcony or house plant. There are now several hundred cultivars of ranunculus from Asia, but all of them are poisonous to both humans and animals.
How poisonous are ranunculus?
Even if the delicate flower heads blooming in splendid colors are reminiscent of edible roses: Like all buttercup plants, ranunculus contains it toxic glycosides of the amygdalin type, which also includes, for example, hydrocyanic acid. The toxin protoanemonin or ranunculol, which is typical for all members of the buttercup family, is particularly effective. This has a caustic effect and is released as a result of an injury to the plant - for example by picking, tearing off or cutting off parts of the plant.
Protoanemonin is found in all parts of the plant, but mainly in the rhizomes, leaves and flowers. However, as soon as these have dried (e.g. after mowing a meadow), the toxin loses its effect, as this process converts it into non-toxic anemonin.
tip: Do not confuse ranunculus with the yellow flowering ranunculus bush (bot. Kerria japonica)! In contrast to the buttercup family, only the seeds of the kerrie, which belongs to the rose family and is also known as the golden rose or Japanese gold rose, are poisonous.
Ranunculus is particularly dangerous for small children and pets such as cats, dogs and smaller rodents such as rabbits or guinea pigs. The younger the child or animal, the more likely they are to try the brightly colored blossoms or other easily accessible plant parts due to their curiosity and inexperience. As a result, poisoning may occur, which as a rule is rarely life-threatening.
Ranunculus is mildly toxic due to the low level of protoanemonin, so extremely large amounts would have to be ingested for severe or fatal poisoning. However, this is unlikely due to the plant's acrid, bitter taste. However, small animals - such as rodents or cats - only need small amounts of the toxin due to their low body weight, so that in rare cases deaths due to respiratory failure and circulatory failure have been reported.
notice: The buttercup plant is also problematic for horses: Even a small piece of root is enough for the animal to die of respiratory paralysis.
Anyone who has eaten part of the tuber or parts of the plant above ground such as leaves and flowers must expect possible symptoms of poisoning. The toxins contained affect - depending on the constitution, body weight and intake - the nervous system, and the body tries to get rid of the harmful substances.
The following symptoms may occur as a result of ranunculus poisoning:
- Nausea, often associated with vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Spasms in the gastrointestinal tract
- increased salivation
- signs of paralysis
- a headache
- Bleeding, especially on the mucous membranes
- increased sweating
Not all of the listed complaints have to occur at the same time, usually only between one to four or five of the symptoms mentioned appear. Since these are also non-specific signs of illness, behind which there could also be other health problems, the sick person should be questioned - if ranunculus consumption was not observed. In addition, attention must be paid to the components of vomit, which, in the event of suspected poisoning, should contain parts of the poisonous ranunculus, such as pieces of flowers or leaves.
Since the toxin ranunculol is already released when the plant is injured, symptoms of poisoning on the skin or mucous membranes also occur in people with sensitive skin when cutting ranunculus (e.g. as cut flowers for the vase). These manifest themselves in the form of itching, reddening or, in more severe cases, blistering. Doctors also refer to this external poisoning as meadow or buttercup dermatitis.
If your child has tasted the poisonous ranunculus and now feels unwell or shows one or more of the signs of poisoning described above, the best way to help him is according to the following schedule:
- Contact poison control center
- give plenty of water (non-carbonated!) or tea to drink
- thereby diluting the ingested toxins
- no milk!
- Never make the affected person vomit
- if you vomit, be careful not to inhale the vomit
- Administer charcoal tablets to bind toxins
- Consult a pediatrician or family doctor
So that it doesn't get that far in the first place, show your children which plants in the garden and at home are poisonous and explain what can happen if they are eaten. In addition, always keep an eye on small children and avoid planting dangerous plants in the first place.
The symptoms of poisoning in animals are similar to those in humans. Whether and how severe the signs of ranunculus poisoning appear depends on the amount consumed and the weight of the animal: A small dog weighing only two to four kilograms reacts more violently to the same amount ingested than a large dog weighing 40 or 50 kilograms body mass.
A first indication of possible poisoning is increased drinking, especially in dogs. Other typical poisoning symptoms are:
- shortness of breath
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting, possibly bloody
- increased salivation
- tremors and/or convulsions
- Coordination problems: animal is dizzy, falls down all the time
- pale to blue discolored mucous membranes
- increased heart rate
- fainting to the point of death
Please note that not all signs need to appear at once. Instead, only certain characteristics appear, depending on the degree of intoxication.
In the event of poisoning, the best way to help your pet is as follows:
- drink plenty of water
- Administer charcoal tablets to bind toxins
- Keep animal warm with blankets
- be careful not to choke on vomit
- take it to the veterinarian/animal clinic immediately
tip: Pets like to nibble on plants, even if, like ranunculus, they are poisonous! Cats and dogs that are mainly kept indoors often no longer have an instinctive warning system that keeps them away from poisonous plants. Therefore, only harmless plants should be cultivated in a cat or dog household.
Ranunculus as a medicinal plant?
In earlier times, dried ranunculus was sometimes used in folk medicine to treat skin diseases (especially warts) and classic common diseases such as rheumatism or arthritis. Such information can still be found on the Internet today, which is why many people seeking advice are confused as to the actual toxicity of the plant.
In fact, experts today advise against medicinal use of the perennial, since the desired effect will most likely not occur - after all, ranunculus is poisonous, which is why there are dangers such as the poisoning symptoms listed. For the diseases mentioned, there are much better and non-toxic herbal alternatives.
notice: Please note that this article is by no means a substitute for a doctor's visit. There is no guarantee of the correctness of medical statements.
Detailed information on first aid in the event of poisoning and important information on the poison control centers can be found here.