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What is Actaea Spicata?

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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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A flowering plant, actaea spicata is native to western Asia and Europe. Though quite poisonous, it has long been used as an herbal remedy, though its toxic nature makes it a dangerous plant to use, and it should only be administered by experts. It is also grown as an ornamental garden accent.

In homeopathy, the black root of the actaea spicata is used. It is considered a remedy for catarrh, or inflammation of the mucus membranes. This can be particularly useful in the respiratory tract. The plant may also work as a spasm suppressant.

Some varieties of actaea spicata, or baneberry, can be used to treat venomous bites, particularly those of rattlesnakes. For this reason, the plant is sometimes known as a rattlesnake herb. Though the scent of the plant can attract toads, the offensive odor may help keep vermin and insects away.

Rheumatic fever may be treated with the flowering plant. Some nervous disorder symptoms have been alleviated through its use as well. Some other ailments that can be treated by actaea spicata include asthma, thyroid swelling, and general rheumatism.

As a potentially lethal plant, baneberry should only be used under the supervision of a physician well-versed in the plant's characteristics. While all parts of the plant are potentially lethal to ingest, the berries are its most poisonous part. Pregnant and nursing women should completely avoid the plant.

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Other names that actaea spicata may be known as include toadroot, herb Christopher, bugbane, and Eurasian baneberry. The perrenial can grow up to 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 centimeters) in height. Actaea spicata thrives on limestone, in ash woods, deep or dappled shade areas, and in humus-rich, damp, stony woods. If grown near other plants, it will take over the area, particularly with legumes.

The plant is slightly downy and dark green, featuring spiked white flowers with four to six petals, toothed leaves grouped in pairs, and four to six sepals beneath the petals. The plant's hermaphroditic flowers, pollinated by flies and beetles, bloom in June. Its fruits ripen in the fall.

Baneberry produces a shiny, egg-shaped fruit in the form of a black berry, which, though harmless to birds, is considered very poisonous to humans. These berries are filled with cardiogenic toxin. If ingested, they can cause sedation, cardiac arrest, or death.

Asian actaea spicata berries are sometimes used with alum to create a black dye. European varieties feature red berries. A similar plant in America, the actaea alba, sports white berries.

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