Side Effects of Bryonia Alba
White bryony, scientifically known as bryonia alba, is a perennial vine from the same family as the cucumber. Indigenous from Europe and Iran and introduced in the US in the 1970s, it is categorized as extremely poisonous, according to the PDR for Herbal Medicines. A fast grower with tuberous roots that have been used for medicinal purposes, clusters of pale flowers and small, red berries that attract birds, the plant has also been called “Kudzu of the Northwest”, “Devil’s Turnip” and “English Mandrake”.
A member of the gourd family, bryonia alba contains cucurbitacins, which give it a strong toxic and cytotoxic effect. The plant is also known to show antitumoral and hypoglycemic effects.
The plant has been used as a laxative, emetic and diuretic. Bryonia alba has also been used in the treatment of diseases like those of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tract, rheumatoid and metabolic disorders, as well as liver and infectious diseases. Due to its powerful toxicity, these uses are no longer justified or recommended.
When it is fresh, all parts of the plant have a high level of toxicity for humans, level that declines with dehydration. It can cause severe skin and mucous membrane irritations. When the skin comes in contact with the plant juice, there is a high risk of rashes, blisters, infection and even necrosis (death of the living tissue).
For an adult, 40 berries of the white bryony plant can be fatal. Only 15 can end a child’s life. A toxic dosage can cause serious vomiting, bloody diarrhea, spasms, paralysis and in grave cases it can lead to death.
Impact on the Habitat
White bryony has a negative impact on the habitat. Growing very fast, up to 6 inches per day, and able to reach 4 meters in length, the plant attaches itself to trees and other vegetation with tendrils and can form a dense shade, which doesn’t allow the survival of the plants it grows on. It can kill even mature trees when it attaches to them. Decrease in wildlife is another known side effect of white bryony habitats.
It is recommended to wear protective clothing and gloves while in the vicinity of the poisonous white bryony plant, to avoid skin contact.
Broadleaf herbicide can be used with success to stop the growth of bryonia alba, but damage to the root is the most effective extermination method.
Bryonia alba was thought to be able to avert lightning. Augustus Caesar is believed to have worn white bryony garlands around his neck during thunderstorms, for this purpose. In the 14th century, the plant was used for the treatment of leprosy and in the 18th century its use was advocated in veterinary medicine.