9 UK plants and their harmful and helpful properties

Find out the surprising healing (and harmful) abilities of some of the UK’s plants.

Press Association
Last updated: 25 June 2018 - 8.54am

The UK is lucky enough to be home to an array of diverse plants, trees and flowers, in part due to the importation of a huge range of plant species during the period of the British Empire.

However, most people are often surprised to learn just how dangerous even the prettiest of the UK’s plants can be and the horrifying symptoms they can bring when they come into contact with humans. Similarly, the majority of us aren’t aware of the all-natural healing benefits found in some of our countryside’s plants. Here’s what you need to know…

[Read more: 6 common home and garden plants that are poisonous to your pets]

1. Harmful – Wolfsbane


Finally… lots of #aconite / #aconitum/ #wolfsbane in my garden 💟💀

A post shared by Maris ❤️. (@mariska135mm) on

Wolfsbane, also known as Aconitum, is one of the most toxic plants growing in the UK. The toxins from this ‘devil in disguise’ plant can be absorbed through contact with the skin and can slow the heart rate. If you see this growing in your garden, don’t be fooled by its appearance and be tempted to touch it – even the smallest doses can lead to an upset stomach.

2. Helpful – Rose Periwinkle

Native to Madagascar, the rose periwinkle (scientific name Catharanthus Roseus) is not only nice to look at – it’s also the source of two crucial cancer treatment drugs, chemotherapy medications vincristine and vinblastine. It’s grown in most areas as an ornamental flower.

3. Harmful and helpful – Daffodil

This common spring perennial plant, is, much to people’s surprise, completely poisonous. Don’t worry too much, though – unless you mistake a daffodil bulb for a leek or an onion and eat it, you should be just fine. In a sharp contrast, the treatment drug for Alzheimer’s disease, Galantamine, is found in daffodils.

4. Harmful – Mistletoe


Kissing under it at Christmas is tradition, but did you know mistletoe is actually highly poisonous? There are two types of mistletoe, the American variety and the European variety – and yep, you guessed it, the European variety is the most harmful of the two. The plant’s scientific name is Viscum Album, and it can’t survive unless it’s living off a host plant, making it parasitic.

[Giant hogweed and 5 other dangerous foreign plants you should look out for]

5. Helpful – Meadowsweet

Thanks to its properties as a natural painkiller, meadowsweet is used to make aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). For centuries, it’s also been used as a traditional herbal remedy to reduce excess acidity in the stomach.

6. Harmful and helpful – Foxglove

Similar to wolfsbane, exposure to the foxglove plant can slow the heart down and cause heart attacks, as well as causing diarrhoea and vomiting. However, unlike wolfsbane, this pretty purple plant has healing properties, too. In fact, drugs that help people with heart conditions have been made from the plant.

7. Harmful – Cuckoo-Pint

This bobbly-looking plant, often referred to as lords-and-ladies or devils and angels, is a common woodland plant. While the plant itself is not poisonous, the bright red and orange berries which grow on it are. If curiosity gets the better of you and you want to have a taste of one of these succulent-looking berries, don’t. When eaten, they can cause severe irritation of the mouth and throat, leading to swelling, pain, and trouble breathing.

8. Helpful – Khella

Ammi Visnaga, commonly known as khella, is a source of the diuretic extract khellin. Diuretic extracts help the body to get rid of excess fluid, hence why the ancient Egyptians used khella as a medicine to treat kidney stones. And they were right to do so – lab research has proven khella contains a compound which slows down the build-up of kidney stones. It’s still commonly used today in tea form.

9. Harmful and helpful – Yew

A conifer native to the UK, yew trees have both harmful and helpful properties. They contain highly poisonous alkaloids that scientists have developed into an anti-cancer drug, but eating just a few of its leaves can make a child severely ill, and a few fatalities have even been recorded.

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