Mythbusters: Poinsettias


Way back in 2003 a show premiered on Discovery Channel that I really loved.  Each week “Mythbusters” would tackle myths and urban legends to see if there was any truth to them.  A common Christmas myth is that poinsettias are toxic, and consuming even a few leaves will make you sick or even kill pets and small children.  On Wednesday, I put my body on the line by drinking a poinsettia smoothie. … Well I’m still alive!  I feel safe declaring this myth “busted”, but let’s take a look at the facts.

The poisonous poinsettia is a particularly persistent parable of precarious provenance. … (OK. I’ll stop.) … According to Snopes, the myth was started in Hawaii in 1919 when the child of an Army officer stationed there died of poisoning, and the cause was incorrectly assumed to be a poinsettia leaf.

Poisindex, the information source for poison control centers, lists the amount needed to exceed experimental doses for a 50 lbs child as 1.25 lbs of poinsettia bracts or about 500-600 leaves.  Doing the math, I would’ve needed around 2,500 leaves before seeing any ill effects.  I think I would’ve been sick from the sheer quantity alone if I made a smoothie with 2,500 leaves!

In 1998, OSU published an article on their Ohio State News website.  Amazingly, the page is still up 20 years later.  Aside from making dated references to “modern” search engines like “Alta Vista” on the “World Wide Web”, the author interviews Dr. Claudio Pasion at OSU:

Back in 1971, researchers at Ohio State tested the toxicity of poinsettias by adding the plants to a liquid solution, mixing it all in a blender, and then feeding the concoction to 55 rats.  The researchers, writing in the journal Toxicon, concluded that rats, “when given extraordinarily high doses of various portions of the poinsettia, show no mortality, no symptoms of toxicity nor any change in dietary intake or general behavior pattern.”

In 1975, the consumer Product Safety Commission cited a lack of substantial evidence in its decision to deny a petition requiring warning labels for poinsettias.  There’s simply no evidence that, unless you consume an insane amount, poinsettias are poisonous.  This myth is totally busted!