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Euphorbia lathyris, commonly known as the mole plant or gopher plant, is an herb that can be a perennial, a biennial or an annual depending on the geographic location where it grows. The herb is indigenous to the Mediterranean but has been introduced to other areas of the world, and it readily self-seeds. Folk medicine in France prescribes the seeds as a laxative or purgative and also as an emetic to cause vomiting. The plant’s roots can be used for similar purposes. Folk medicine also advocates using a milky substance produced by the plant, latex, to treat warts and cancer.
Today, euphorbia lathyris is known to be toxic, but folk remedies in the past have used the plant for the treatment of corns, skin problems, sore throats, diarrhea and gangrene. Oil produced by the seeds has been used to treat burns, and the seeds themselves have been used in homeopathic medicine in the treatment of rheumatism, paralysis and a streptococcal infection called erysipelas. Both the plant’s latex and leaves can cause blisters, and enterprising beggars in years past purposely created blisters on their skin to elicit pity and enhance their entreaties. Euphorbia lathyris is reportedly also used as a diuretic and an antiseptic.
Oil from the seeds of euphorbia lathyris is poisonous. Overdoses can cause cramps, delirium, an unsteady pulse, collapse, dilated pupils, burning in the mouth, diarrhea, and nausea. The plant, also known as caper spurge, has been known to be present in the milk of goats that eat the plant, not harming the goat but making the milk unsafe for humans to drink. A common misunderstanding — confusing the plant’s seeds with capers — has occasionally led to cases of poisoning. Solutions that contain euphorbia lathyris are also extremely toxic to fish and amphibians. These extracts can kill frogs, but even if the contact does not result in death, the frogs may experience problems with development and metamorphosis. Livestock deaths have also been recorded. The ingestion of a few seeds can reputedly lead to the termination of a pregnancy.
The herb’s seeds also possess an anti-tumor property, useful against certain leukemias. In the past, it has been used to treat snakebite, amenorrhea and scabies. Euphorbia lathyris also possesses antiseptic properties.
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