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Friday, April 13, 2012
EUROPEAN LABURNUM: PRETTY BUT POISONOUS: HISTORY OS USES OF LABURNUM
LABURNUM, LABURNUM ANAGYROIDES
The laburnum tree is cultivated widely in
Europe, particularly in Britain, because of its yellow flowers which hang in clusters but which later give way to poisonous seeds. I once lived close to one of these trees and can say that nothing could grow under it. It is a member of the Leguminoseae or Fabaceae family and so is related to the Indian laburnum or amaltas, carob, peas, beans such as the green bean, borlotti bean, soya beans, chickpeas and choliya, the tree from which we get gum Tragacanth, the butterfly pea, the trees, dhak, jhand, the Indian coral tree, the Borneo or Pacific teak, the Lead tree (Ipil –Ipil), the pongam tree, the monkey pod tree, ashoka, indigo, lentils, alfalfa, field restharrow and a whole host of other plants.
A botanical synonym is Cytisus laburnum, so it is a close relative of broom, Cytisus scoparius.
It looks very pretty, but it is poisonous and should be treated with care. It is indigenous to the mountainous regions of
France, Germany and Switzerland, but can now be seen virtually all over Europe. Unfortunately the seeds can kill animals, and people. They contain the poisonous alkaloid, cystine, which may be a perfect insecticide, but cannot be used, for example to kill head lice in children (as can Stavesacre or Lousewort) because it may be absorbed through the skin. The poisoning can be fatal from ingestion of this plant, although there are some reports that this can be remedied by administering a violent emetic and then dosing yourself with whiskey or poisoned before having one!)
It has been suggested that the seeds could be used for whooping cough and asthma, but again this has not been used because of the possibility of death occurring from the dosage which was meant to cure. (This is another plant, like aconite, either Monkshood or wolfsbane, which is best avoided.)
We know that this tree was introduced into
England some time before 1597 as John Gerard, the 16th century apothecary and herbalist, wrote of having one in his garden. He called it Bean trefoil or Anagyris. The laburnum tree is called Faux ébénier in French - False ebony as its wood is used instead of ebony. It is hard and durable but coarse-grained and need to be highly polished. However it is used by turners and may be used for furniture or decorative items.