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The Gardener’s Guide to Poison Prevention

Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Just the other day, one of our super certified poison information specialists (CSPI) was shopping at a local grocery store and found a packet of castor bean seeds in the gardening section. While most would be dazed by the beautiful flowers these seeds produce, at the Illinois Poison Center we are all too familiar with the poison contained in castor beans, ricin.  Ricin is derived from castor beans and can be refined and manufactured as a chemical weapon. Potentially toxic plants around homes are always a concern for the IPC staff. With the spring-planting season upon us, we want to provide our readers with some very important information they need in order to become more educated gardeners.


Potentially poisonous plants are just one of the many concerns regarding your spring planting. There are many safety tips you should remember while planting your garden.

For instance:

  • The castor bean mentioned above, is reportedly lethal in a child


  • Morning glory seeds, if ingested, may cause hallucinations.
  • There are many plants in Illinois that can cause cardiac toxicity such as the delicate white bell shaped flowers of the lily of the valley and the bold pink Foxglove.
  • Illinois is also home to many berries that are potentially poisonous such as nightshade and pokeweed.
  • Luckily the Illinois Poison Center has a list of toxic and non toxic plants to help guide you in beautifying your garden sanctuary.


Another major gardening issue are those little bugs that like to graze upon the blooms you have spent countless hours toiling over, or the weeds that threaten to strangle your dear little blossoms.  You may be tempted to reach for the strongest pesticides or herbicides to take care of them in one fell swoop.

But we urge you to … STOP and count to 10! Make certain you purchase the correct chemical for the job and follow the package directions for correct use.

  • Pesticides and insecticides should not be used in soil that you plan to grow any edible fruits or vegetables.
  • ALWAYS thoroughly read through the instructions before using these products.  Many pesticides and herbicides are meant to be diluted with water.
  • ALWAYS require gloves or other protective clothing during application.
  • ALWAYS thoroughly wash your hands or any exposed skin when you have finished application of the product.
  • Make certain if using an aerosol spray that you are not standing in the way of the chemical mist. If possible avoid applying on a windy day.
  • Keep children and pets far away during the application of pesticides.
  • Be sure to lock up the pesticide product immediately after use.


Soil contaminated with lead is unfortunately a possibility, especially if you are living in an urban area. If there is any possibility that you may have lead in your soil it is imperative that you do not attempt to grow fruit or vegetables meant for human consumption in that soil.  The EPA has a list of approved laboratories where you can send a sample of your soil for testing.

In addition to the above website, The University of Illinois has a site dedicated to the University of Illinois Master Gardeners and lists county office extensions. If you call the county office number they will instruct you as to when and where to bring soil samples for testing. When you click on your county, it will list the local address, phone and fax numbers of the office.


Most nitrogen based fertilizers that are sold as “ready to use” products, are not expected to produce toxicity. Please read labels and dilute or apply as directed. If you have the “little ones” helping you with your gardening, take extra care not to expose them to any potentially harmful chemicals.

If one of your helpers is exposed to a potentially harmful substance please call 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

Other Helpful Tips

  • The use of mothballs to ward off rodents is highly discouraged as mothballs are potentially toxic to household pets and children. Mothballs often contain naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene which emit very noxious, irritating and potentially toxic fumes and are difficult to dispose of once they have been put down. These are chemicals you don’t want in your planting beds.
  • Avoid using lumber which may have been treated with preservatives such as arsenic or creosote in your vegetable or fruit garden as these chemicals may leach into the soil and your plants.

If in your haste to get rooted in your gardening pursuits, you fear you may have been exposed to a potential toxin/harmful substances, please do not hesitate to call the Illinois Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. We are here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to serve all Illinois residents and healthcare professionals.

By Erin Pallasch, Jessica Sims, Tony B. <— IPC Call Center Experts

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Related posts:

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  2. Free Materials for Illinois Poison Prevention Month
  3. It’s Illinois Poison Prevention Month!

2 Comments on “The Gardener’s Guide to Poison Prevention”

  1. 1 hazardous waste Long Beach said at 3:44 am on December 30th, 2011:

    While many of us are fond of gardening, it is important that we ensure that the plants we are planting are not hazardous to our health. It is better to check with local authorities the list of plants that are lethal or hazardous. It is also is also advised that safety precautions should be practiced when using pesticides.

  2. 2 IPC said at 11:25 am on January 3rd, 2012:

    Thanks for the comment and excellent point!! Feel free to visit our website –, for a list of toxic plants indigenous to IL. There is also information about how to properly use pesticides on the site.

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