Boxwood: Toxic for children and adults?
The boxwood is documented as a cultivated plant since ancient times, in its longevity is based on its mystical significance as a plant of immortality. Its use as a medicinal plant with antipyretic and analgesic effects also has a long tradition, but is highly problematic. This is because the approximately 70 different alkaloids, above all buxin, which are found particularly in the roots and leaves of the plant, are highly toxic even in small doses when taken orally.
Nevertheless, it is not immediately necessary to abandon the box as a garden plant. Poisoning, especially in adults, is rare, because all parts of the boxwood taste bitter and are therefore rarely consumed in quantities dangerous to life. Also, boxwood does not bear attractive fruits or seed coats that might tempt people to eat it, as is the case with the poisonous yews (Taxus), for example. If you have children and pets it is still important to know about the dangers. Because it is true that the lower the body weight, the easier it is to reach the dangerous dose when ingested orally.
Boxwood, sometimes spelled buxus, in this country is a very popular plant for the ornamental garden. Whether cut in the form of a ball, square or animal shape, the little tree always finds a beautiful place in the garden. And a boxwood hedge is the ideal privacy screen for many. As pretty as the plant is to look at, it is not suitable for animal or human consumption.
Poison in boxwood
Box belongs to the genus Buxus. From the common boxwood, botanically Buxus sempervirens, today there are more than sixty varieties. They differ in leaf color, size, shape and spacing, as well as in their growth habit and speed. Common to all varieties is that all their parts are poisonous. Since the leaves have a very bitter taste, they are usually not swallowed, but immediately spat out. Thus, the ingestion of larger quantities and thus poisoning is rather rare, but you should still be careful.
The popular boxwood is very poisonous. With around 70 alkaloids, it contains a veritable cocktail of poisons. The proportion of all alkaloids in leaves and bark is three percent. The flowers and fruits of the boxwood are also highly poisonous. In addition to the main active ingredient cyclobuxin (buxin), other poisons have been found in the plant.
Effect of the poison
The poisonous cocktail in boxwood takes effect when parts of the plant are eaten. Just touching the plant does not cause poisoning. However, if you work on the plant, wear gloves and always wash your hands thoroughly after cutting.
Symptoms of box poisoning
Alkaloids act as neurotoxins by taking the place of endogenous neurotransmitters in the synapses, thereby interfering with the transmission of information. The symptoms of severe boxwood poisoning are first states of agitation, which then change to paralysis, convulsions and tremors. Nausea with vomiting and diarrhea are typical accompanying symptoms of poisoning. Very quickly, a drop in blood pressure can occur, which in the worst case can lead to circulatory collapse and even death. There is no antidote, but the human body is capable of slowly breaking down the dangerous substances itself at low doses.
Countermeasures and first aid
It is advisable to instill in children from the beginning that you must ask first before they taste of a plant from the garden. Very young children must of course be supervised at all times. If, in spite of all precautions, poisoning should occur, always notify the rescue service or the poison control number first. There you will get the necessary advice, because each poisoning is to be treated differently.
Symptoms of poisoning
As with all poisons, the degree of poisoning of boxwood depends on the dose supplied, body size and weight. Therefore, small animals, for example, are more at risk compared to children. Since adult humans swallow only small amounts, if any, of boxwood, poisonings that have resulted in death are fortunately not even known or documented in this country.
Nevertheless, if the worst comes to the worst, do not hesitate to call the appropriate emergency number. A check by a medical professional or veterinarian will give you peace of mind. Because in the worst case a box tree poisoning can lead nevertheless to the death.
Symptoms of poisoning caused by the boxwood are:
- drop in blood pressure and even circulatory collapse
If children have nibbled from the boxwood or its fruit, keep calm. First and foremost, get the child to spit out any leftovers. Unlike other poisonings, no antidote needs to be given for boxwood poisoning. The body can even break down small amounts of the poison itself and the symptoms will subside after some time.
A first measure is the administration of medicinal charcoal. It binds the toxins in the stomach. Do not make the child vomit. It is more effective if the child drinks small amounts of tea or water. Milk is not recommended. It is not an antidote. Under certain circumstances, it can even promote the absorption of toxins in the intestine.
Symptoms of poisoning in pets are similar to those in humans. If your pet has nibbled on box elder, the poison will first have an arousing effect, but then very quickly become paralyzing and blood pressure lowering. Stomach and intestinal irritation as well as vomiting and diarrhea are among the symptoms, as are cramps and tremors.
Because it is difficult to determine the amount eaten in pets, seek immediate veterinary attention if symptoms occur. Do not try to make the pet vomit, better offer him water to drink. This will dilute the poison in the gastrointestinal tract.
As with humans, the following also applies to pets: young animals can tolerate a smaller amount of poison than adult animals. For a four-kilo cat, for example, around 20 grams of boxwood are already lethal, for a 30-kilo dog 150 grams. The rule of thumb is that 5 grams of the plant per kilogram of body mass in dogs or cats is fatal.
If you are sure that the toxins in boxwood are the cause of the symptoms, children should be made to spit out any parts of the plant that have not yet been swallowed. It may also be useful to induce vomiting in cases of recent ingestion to prevent absorption of the toxin into the body. However, if the child already has convulsions, this will hardly be possible. Saline solution as an emetic should be urgently avoided, especially in children. If the but child vomits, support him by supporting his forehead and help to assume a position in which the vomit cannot enter the respiratory tract.
Boxwood: Toxic for dogs and cats?
The alkaloids of boxwood are also toxic to pets. Dogs and cats can be affected, although eating the plant may not be particularly attractive to them. In particular, care must be taken with small, herbivorous pets such as rodents or rabbits. Their outdoor enclosures and cages should be placed a safe distance from the boxwood. For dogs, the lethal dose is known to be 0.1 grams of buxin per kg of body weight, which is equivalent to about 5 to 10 grams of the drug (i.e., the respective plant parts), is considered lethal. There are also reports of fatal poisoning in pigs where cut book shoots were used as bedding.
To avoid poisoning with boxwood in the first place, some precautions should be taken for your own balcony or garden.
place on balcony or terrace out of reach of children and pets
if you have small children, it is better not to plant it in the garden
However, boxwood is not only found in your own or your neighbor’s garden as a box hedge. The slow-growing plant is also popular as a border for graves or as an ornamental plant in parks or near playgrounds. For public areas, keep an eye out to see if boxwood is nearby.
The plant is toxic not only to children, but also to pets. Animals at risk include not only dogs and cats, but also rabbits or guinea pigs and other smaller caged animals. To protect their pets from poisoning, the following precautions should be taken.
no boxwood in the garden if pets are present
fence boxwood in a way that is safe for animals
cats should not be able to climb up
place outdoor enclosures for rabbits and guinea pigs at a great distance from the box tree
Boxwood as a medicinal plant
Despite its toxicity, boxwood was used as a medicinal plant in ancient times. It was used mainly as a remedy for coughs and stomach and intestinal diseases. Today, the plant is no longer used as a remedy, because its dosage is extremely problematic. Thus, overdose leads to vomiting and convulsions. It can even be fatal. Only in homeopathy Buxus is still occasionally prescribed against rheumatism.