Thorn Apple: A Poisonous Plant with Medicinal Properties

Thorn Apple: A Poisonous Plant with Medicinal Properties

Thorn apple, also known as jimsonweed, devil’s snare, or devil’s trumpet, is a poisonous flowering plant of the nightshade family Solanaceae. It is a species belonging to the Datura genus and Daturae tribe.

Thorn apple has a tropical or subtropical origin, but it has been introduced in many world regions, where it grows as a weed in gardens, roadsides, and other waste or cultivated land. It is quite common in the British Isles, especially in hot summers.

Thorn apple produces wide, funnel-shaped flowers that are usually white, but can also be purple or lilac. The flowers have a pleasing odour and are pollinated by moths. The fruits are walnut-shaped capsules with thorns all over them, hence the common name thorn apple. The fruits explode when ripe and release small black seeds that germinate easily.

The leaves and seeds of thorn apple contain tropane alkaloids, such as scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine, which are responsible for the psychoactive and toxic effects of the plant. Thorn apple has been used as a hallucinogen, taken entheogenically to cause intense, sacred or occult visions. However, the effects are often unpleasant and can lead to a state of profound and long-lasting disorientation or delirium (anticholinergic syndrome) with a potentially fatal outcome.

Despite its dangers, thorn apple has also been employed in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, such as asthma, coughs, fever, pain, skin diseases, and rheumatism. It has also been used as an anesthetic, an antispasmodic, and an anti-inflammatory. However, the therapeutic use of thorn apple is risky and requires expert knowledge and dosage control, as the margin between effective and lethal doses is very narrow.

How to Handle Thorn Apple Safely

The RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) advises gardeners to take some simple precautions when dealing with thorn apple:

  • Avoid contact with skin and eyes. Wear gloves and goggles when handling the plant or its parts.

  • Avoid ingestion. Do not eat any part of the plant or its seeds. Keep children and pets away from the plant.

  • Avoid inhalation. Do not burn the plant or its parts, as the smoke can cause respiratory irritation or poisoning.

  • Avoid spreading. Remove the plant before it sets seed. Dispose of the plant material safely by bagging it and taking it to a landfill site.

  • Avoid confusion. Do not confuse thorn apple with other plants that have similar names or appearance, such as apple of Peru (Nicandra physalodes), angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia spp.), or potato (Solanum tuberosum).

If you suspect that you or someone else has been exposed to thorn apple, seek medical attention immediately.

Thorn Apple: A Poisonous Plant with Medicinal Properties