While lovely holiday symbols, poinsettias and mistletoe have long been thought to be gravely poisonous.

But while ingesting these holiday plants can cause discomfort, data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) indicates they’re not quite the deadly hazards experts once thought.

Poinsettia Problems

“Treating a poinsettia exposure is a glass of milk for the child and a tincture of reassurance for the parent,” says Dr. Ed Krenzelok, managing director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center. “That’s it.”

Having authored studies on both mistletoe and poinsettias, Dr. Krenzelok has found that both plants are less deadly than the lore about them would indicate. His 1996 study on poinsettias, which involved 22,793 exposures and no fatalities, found that most patients can be treated at home, without requiring a trip to a healthcare facility.

Last year, U.S. poison centers received 1,174 calls about human exposures to poinsettias, with only one resulting in a moderate medical effect and 27 with minor effects. No deaths or major effects were reported.

In 2007, poison centers received 1,373 calls about poinsettia exposures, with only three resulting in moderate medical effects and 36 with minor effects.

Last year, poison centers took 277 calls regarding animal exposures to poinsettias (and 326 in 2007).  Again, no deaths or major medical outcomes were reported.

“Other than a little bit of vomiting, we don’t expect any problems from poinsettias,” says Dr. Tina Wismer, a veterinary toxicologist for the Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, IL. While poison centers field plenty of calls about animals, she has never seen a serious effect.

That said, Dr. Krenzelok cautions that consuming anything in excess can be hazardous.

Mistletoe Misconceptions

Mistletoe, too, has suffered from a bad reputation, Dr. Krenzelok says.

Last year, U.S. poison centers took 132 calls about human exposures (and 131 in 2007). During both years, only one person experienced a moderate medical outcome.

Have Questions?

If you have questions about holiday plants or any other holiday-related products, call the AAPCC at (800) 222-1222. Free, confidential counseling is available 24/7 all year.

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