Scientific Name(s): Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. ex Klotzsch
Common Name(s): Christmas flower, Christmas star, Easter flower, Lobster flower plant, Mexican flame leaf, Noch Buena, Papagallo, Poinsettia, Star of Bethlehem
Poinsettia belongs to the Euphorbiaceae (spurge) family, which includes more than 1,000 herbs, shrubs, and trees. Many members of this family, including poinsettia, are characterized by the presence of a milky latex emulsion found in the lactiferous vessels. When damaged, the plants secrete this latex. Poinsettia is a perennial ornamental found throughout warmer climates in the United States and Mexico. The plant has small yellow flowers and red leaves (bracts), which are prized for their decorative effect. The plant has also been referred to as Euphorbia poinsettia Buist and Poinsettia pulcherrima Graham.1, 2
The poinsettia plant was brought from Mexico to the United States by Joel Robert Poinsett, a physician, botanist, and US diplomat, in the early 1800s.2 E. pulcherrima sap has been used as a depilatory agent, and extracts of the plant were used traditionally as an antipyretic and to stimulate lactation.3, 4 Poinsettia has also been used as a natural remedy for warts and toothaches, although the plant is now primarily used for decorative purposes.2, 3
The stems and leaves may contain small amounts of alkaloids; however, there are conflicting data regarding the presence of these compounds. The latex or milky sap contains aminobutyric acids, cycloartenol, and pseudotaraxasterol.3 Although saponic glycosides and diterpene esters from the sap are often believed to be toxic, there is little evidence of the plant's toxicity.5, 6 Compounds found in the leaves and stems include germanicol, beta-amyrin, pulcherol, octaeicosanol, beta-sitosterol, rubber, caffeic acid, and anthocyanin.3 Chemical constituents of the flowers and fruit have also been described.3, 7
Uses and Pharmacology
Crude E. pulcherrima extract exhibited some antiviral activity; however, further fractionation resulted in loss of this effect.8
Molluscicidal activity against fresh water snails has been demonstrated with aqueous poinsettia latex extract.9
Effects of dried poinsettia latex on the CNS, including antinociception, anticonvulsant, motor coordination, sedative-hypnotic potentiation, and antianxiety effects, were evaluated in rodents; only anticonvulsant effects were observed.10
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of poinsettia.
Clinical evidence does not support specific dosing of poinsettia in a therapeutic context.
Pregnancy / Lactation
Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Traditional use as a galactogenic agent has not been clinically supported.4
None well documented.
Although many published reports have warned of the plant's toxicity, there is little clinical evidence to support this claim.4, 14 The apparent source of these reports is a single, poorly documented 1919 case in which a 2-year-old child in Hawaii died after ingesting the plant leaves.4, 14, 16 Due to the bright color of the foliage, ingestion by children is common; however, there are very few poison center reports of adverse effects.14, 16 Supportive therapy is recommended; lavage or induction of vomiting is not necessary.16
Reports of toxicity (increased salivation, vomiting, and, rarely, diarrhea) in domestic cats, thought to be due to diterpenoid esters, have been published.6, 17 However, the diterpenes responsible for GI upset that are found in other members of the Euphorbia spp. are not found in E. pulcherrima.14 Toxicity studies in rodents show no evidence of toxicity, even following instillation of the plant's latex into the eyes.14, 18, 19 Minor skin irritation has been observed after repeated exposure in rabbits.11, 14
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