9 Common Poisonous Plants Of The PNW (Washington & Oregon)

If you’re going to be foraging in the Pacific Northwest, you are probably already aware that there are literally hundreds of deliciously edible plants readily available.

Good luck learning them all! Even after years of foraging I regularly learn about a new edible plant or a way to prepare a plant I previously considered inedible.

However, I feel that most new foragers would be better served to spend their study-time learning about the plants that are likely to kill them.

Knowing and recognizing the poisonous plants in the PNW can save yourself, your kids, your dogs, and your livestock.

Luckily, the fertility of most of the PNW has resulted in fewer poisonous plants that you’d find in Utah, Nevada, or even the deserts of Washington and Oregon.

Learning the poisonous plants that you’re likely to encounter is always time well spent before heading out into the mountains of the area.

So let’s take a look at some of the more common options you’ll meet that are likely to do far more than just give you a stomach ache.

Oh and, just for clarity, I’ve left poisonous mushrooms out of this article. Gathering mushrooms is a whole different proposition and one that you should do your own serious study on before diving in.

Pacific Northwest Plants That Are Poisonous For Humans

Now, before we get started, these plants are (mostly) not going to make you drop dead if they’re consumed.

Most poisonous plants are meant to heavily dissuade you from trying to eat them again. You’re no use to them if you’re dead.

However, many of these can be deadly if consumed in excess. In normal amounts, they’re likely to cause lots of stomach issues (vomiting and diarrhea), sweating, tremors, hallucinations, and more.

None of them are to be taken lightly.

1. Wisteria

Recognizable Features: Wisteria is a vine-line aquatic plant. it is most recognizable in the spring by its brilliant blue or purple flowers.

Effects Of Consumption: The entire plant is considered poisonous to humans. Consumption typically results in abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, confusion, depression, and diarrhea.

2. Skunk Cabbage

Recognizable Features: Skunk cabbage is a broad leafy green that shows yellow flowers during spring. It is most recognizable by its smell, a strong urine-like odor. If in doubt, crush some leaves and you’ll be able to tell.

Effects Of Consumption: Skunk cabbage leaves are poisonous to humans. Consumption results in mouth/throat swelling and a burning sensation.

3. Japanese Yew

Recognizable Features: Japanese Yew is often found in city limits where they are planted for decorative purposes. Look for the short needles and small reddish-purple berry-like seeds.

Effects Of Consumption: The leaves/needles, twigs, and berry-like seeds are all considered poisonous. Consumption can result in vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness (coupled with lack of coordination), and decreased heart rate.

4. Red Banebarry

Recognizable Features: Red Baneberry grows in wet forested areas. It has a hairy stem and toothy leaves. It has white flowers which, in turn, result in red or white berries with small black dots.

Effects Of Consumption: The entire plant is considered poisonous to humans. Consumption often results in Dizziness, nausea, increased heart rate, fast shallow breathing, and abdominal discomfort.

5. Daphne Odora

Recognizable Features: Daphnes are most recognizable by their fragrant whitish pink flowers that bloom in late winter. They also sport long greening yellow plantain-like leaves.

Effects Of Consumption: Daphne odora is an all-around unpleasant plant. The flowers are toxic, the berries corrode your mouth skin, and the sap will irritate your skin. Consumption of the flowers results in drooling, convulsions, weakness, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing.

6. Oleander

Recognizable Features: There are a couple of different types of Oleander in the PNW and none of them are advisable for consumption. Oleander is typically a large shrub with narrow dark green leaves and pink, red, or white flowers. It is often found near fresh water such as streams or rivers.

Effects Of Consumption: The entire plant is considered poisonous to humans. Consumption results in an increased heart rate, poor circulation (cold extremities), swollen mouth, diarrhea, and vomiting.

7. Morning Glory

Recognizable Features: Morning Glory is a small running viney plant that is found low to the ground. It produces white or purple flowers and is quite ubiquitous in the PNW. It can be found in forests, near roads, and probably in your lawn.

Effects Of Consumption: The seeds of morning glory are poisonous to humans. Consumptions results in Diarrhea, hallucinations, tremors, and mental confusion.

8. Choke Cherry

Recognizable Features: Chokecherries have recognizable shiny red leaves and small red berries. During the spring they have white flowers. Chokecherry trees are often found in urban environments and in open forested areas.

Effects Of Consumption: The leaves, bark, and twigs of chokeberries and poisonous to humans. Consumption results in difficulty breathing, tremors, and dilated pupils

9. Death Camas

Recognizable Features: Death Camas is most recognizable by its white cone-shaped flowering structures. It is a small perennial grass-like flower with small green leaves.

Effects Of Consumption: The entire plant is poisonous with the bulbs having the greatest concentration of toxins. Consumptions results in drooling, rapid pulse, and lack of coordination.

My #1 Tip For Avoiding Poisonous Plants While Foraging

If you don’t know if, don’t eat it.

Most people who are foraging in the PNW do so as a hobby. If you’re not foraging out of necessity, remember that saving a couple of bucks is not worth getting sick over.

Even if you need the sustenance you get from foraging, remember: starving to death is hard and takes a long time. Poisoning yourself if you’re foraging foolishly is very easy. Losing everything in your stomach and spending a week in bed will do much more to dampen your foraging than going home empty-handed.

there are tips for graduated consumption to tell if a plant is poisonous but there are enough edible plants in the PNW that I would never advise such a regimen. only eat what you know.

3 Common Traits Of Poisonous Plants In The PNW

Poisonous plants of a specific region often have developed similar traits that make them recognizable. While this is foolproof (many edible plants mimic them) it’s a good place to start if you’re unfamiliar with the plant.

1. Unusual Leaf Color & Structure

Many edible plants have vibrant green leaves that you would expect from a typical tree leave or grassy plant.

Poisonous plants, on the other hand, often display dull green dusty looking leaves or highly glossy (waxy looking) leaves depending on where they grow (dull in the shade, gloss in the sun).

These leaves often come in leaf structures with three leaflets coming from a single point. There is often a longer “main leaflet” in the middle and a smaller leaflet on each side.

While there are expectations to both of these “rules” there are consistent enough to have sparked the old foraging adage: “If there are leaves of three, let it be.”

2. Milky Sap

If something irritates your skin it’s pretty safe to say that, without very careful preparation, it will also irritate your “inner skin” (meaning your mouth throat, and stomach).

Plants with milky sap often fall into the “irritant” category and if I can’t positively identify them as edible I pass them by.

3. White or Yellow Berries

The Pacific Northwest (Southeast Alaska in particular) is rife with edible berries. However, most of these berries that are safe to consume are somewhere on the spectrum of red or blue/black.

White or yellow berries are seldom (if ever) edible and should be avoided.

Other Plants You’ll Want To Learn & Avoid

If you’re foraging in the PNW you’ll want to learn about as many toxic plants as possible. However, there is a point of diminishing returns where you’ll have to balance your knowledge of toxic plants with edible ones.

Many plants (even poisonous ones) have parts that are edible or are edible if prepared correctly.

Others (such as locoweed or pigweed) are dangerous only to specific animals and can be safely consumed by others.

Others still are fine if they are grown in a fertile area but build up toxins if grown in other conditions such as dry ground or alkaline soils.

In short, there are tons of plants to know. The Pacific Northwest has well over 3,000 species of plants (not including Alaska) so you’d expect many to be toxic in some way.

To push you a little further along, here is a list of plants that I would suggest all newcomers avoid entirely until they are more confident:

  • Mountain Laurel
  • Castor Bean
  • Water Hemlock
  • Manchineel
  • Monkshood
  • Corn Cockle
  • Oak (Acorns & Leaves)
  • Angel’s Trumpet
  • Wild Parsnip
  • Larkspur
  • Deadly Nightshade
  • White Hellebore
  • Giant Hogweed
  • Pokeweed
  • Jimson Weed
  • Daffodil
  • Poison Sumac
  • Iris
  • White Snakeroot
  • Poison Hemlock
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit
  • Wild Poinsettia
  • Poison Ivy
  • Foxglove
  • Poison Oak
  • Doll’s Eye

What To Do If You Think You’ve Ingested A Poisonous Plant

If you think you’ve ingested a poisonous plant you’ll want to get professional help right away.

If you’re a new forager, never consume anything while in the wild until you’re 100% sure what it is. Take your gatherings home to research and prepare them.

That way you’re never more than a phone call away from help.

Conclusion

I hope that this list wasn’t discouraging for you! I know it’s a bit daunting but, the reality of foraging is that you’ll be able to learn a few plants that you like and can easily find to gather.

At least 80% of your foraging will be the same few plants again and again so you’ll really only have to learn this information once.

Knowing at least a moderate number of poisonous plants is typically enough to keep you and your fellow foragers safe. Especially if you’re foraging in a group and can rely on everyone’s knowledge.

Just remember, it’s better to be hungry than poisoned! Good luck!

Do You Love The PNW?

Get content updates, news about new merch, and info on big events in the area!

We respect your privacy.