Holly berries and mistletoe may appear festive, but they’re also toxic

By Matt Kelly, Radio Iowa
While poinsettias have an undeserved reputation for being poisonous, as you’d have to eat a few hundred poinsettia leaves to get sick, an expert says two other traditional holiday plants are toxic.

Registered nurse Tammy Noble, at the Iowa Poison Control Center, says mistletoe can be dangerous if consumed by people or pets, and also the red berries in holly should never be eaten.

“The berries can cause some gastrointestinal symptoms,” Noble says, “so things like nausea, vomiting, upset stomach-type of distress, maybe abdominal cramping, diarrhea also with it.”

Noble says the symptoms can show up quite rapidly and may last for 24 hours or more.

“If somebody does happen to swallow a holly berry, we do recommend that they call the poison center so we can evaluate how many berries were swallowed and give you recommendations on what to do,” Noble says. “The big thing is we don’t want them to be so sick with vomiting and diarrhea that they could get dehydrated from that.”

On the subject of berries, mistletoe’s white berries can also be toxic, and while sprigs of the plant are often placed above doorways to promote kissing, Noble says the entire plant should be avoided.

“The flower and the leaves of the mistletoe tend to be more toxic than the berry but we tend to get more calls about the berry than we do the flower or the leaves,” Noble says. “And with this one, also, it can cause the gastrointestinal, the GI upset.”

If you have questions or concerns, call the Sioux City-based Iowa Poison Control Center anytime at 1-800-222-1222.