While many people fear “chemicals” and turn to plants as a safe source of food and medicine, this strategy can backfire. The natural world is rife with toxins.
Why is this? Since plants cannot move to elude pathogens and predators, they evolved an astonishing array of chemicals to defend themselves.
While some of these chemicals are safe, and used as medicine, many others are lethal. And some are both – depending on the dose!
Many fungi also make dangerous toxins in their quest to thrive in the competitive microbial world. Unfortunately, many of these toxin-producing fungi live on human and animal foods and contaminate them.
This series will delve into the world of these fascinating organisms that make an array of dangerous chemicals.
Here are the plants, and their associated toxins, we’ll be discussing in this year-long article series that includes an introduction to the concept that natural isn’t always better!
- Cyanide: Many plants make this killer
- Aflatoxins (fungi): The 2nd leading cause of cancer in the world
- Digitalis (foxglove): One of many plant toxins that can be lethal or used as medicine depending on the dose
- Ricin (castor bean): The second most toxic molecule in the world
- Ergot alkaloids (fungus that infects rye): Did eating contaminated rye lead to the Salem witch trials?
- Strychine (Strychnos trees): Used to kill animals for hundreds of years
- Scopolamine (deadly nightshade): A useful medicine or a dangerous drug used by criminals?
- Aconite (monkshood): Occasional killer of gardeners
- Coniine (poison hemlock): Ancient method of execution
- Fuminosin (fungi): Fungal toxins often found in corn used to feed animals
- Nicotine (tobacco): An addictive drug at lower doses and a poison at higher ones
This article series will be presented by Plant Pathologist Helga George, PhD, of Plants Rule