While there are long-standing rumors about the red-and-green flowers traditionally associated with Christmas being deadly if eaten, Tammy Noble, a registered nurse and spokeswoman for the Iowa Poison Control Center, says that’s simply not true.
“Poinsettias have had a bad rap over the years,” Noble says, “but we’ve found that they’re not as toxic as what we thought 50 years ago.”
One study found that a child would have to eat as many as 500 poinsettia leaves to become poisoned, but aside from that, Noble says the leaves taste terrible so no one would likely ever eat a lethal dose of them. They’re a lovely plant, she says, and they shouldn’t concern you.
“We know that swallowing some of the leaves can cause mild upset stomach,” Noble says, “but it’s okay to have poinsettias in your house or to give to family members who are in nursing homes. They’re low risk.”
Other plants that may appear in your house during the year-end holidays could pose a more significant threat. Noble says to take care with holly berries and mistletoe as they -can- be poisonous.
If you have a question or concern, call the Sioux City-based Iowa Poison Control Center anytime at 1-800-222-1222.
The poinsettia is native to Mexico and dates back centuries to when the Aztecs cultivated them to be more like trees that grew to be ten feet high.
Seventeenth-century Franciscan priests in Mexico used poinsettias in nativity processions, the first recorded use for a Christmas celebration, though they weren’t called poinsettias then. That didn’t come until Joel Robert Poinsette introduced the plant to the U.S. in 1825 while he was the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. The plants were later named to honor him.