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View Full Version : Rhododendron -- Facts vs Myths?



Greebe
10-25-2011, 06:06 PM
So my wife and I recently moved to WV and we have noticed that there are rhododendrons everywhere. The wood from these seem pretty dense and like it would be good for utensils and so forth. In fact I believe some people call it Spoonwood. I was thinking that since they seem to be growing everywhere like weeds they would make a good source of wood that I would not feel bad about cutting.

The part that I do not understand is that there seems to be a conflict of what people think about theses. I have seen some sites where people say they are poisonous while others say that they can be used for utensils and even for adding to food. Some people even claim that the smoke form the wood is toxic.

So what is the scoop on rhododendron? Are there any real botanical sites with reputable info about whether they are poisonous or not?

Any help would be appreciated.

Thanks
Greebe

Greebe
10-25-2011, 06:40 PM
I found this on the bushcraftliving forum, but have no idea if it is correct or not.

Medicinal:
Rhododendron arboreum’s nectar is brewed to make wine and is effective in diarrhoea and dysentery. Its Corolla is administered in case of fishbone stuck in the gullet. Snuff made from the bark of the tree is excellent cold reliever. Young leaves can be processed into paste and applied on the forehead to alleviate headaches.
Rhdodendron campanulatum is also used as snuff and is effective in case of cold and hermicrania. Also the species is used in curing chronic rheumatism, syphilis. The dried twigs and wood are used by Nepalese against phthisis and chronic fever. On being burnt its smoke causes irritation.
Rhododendron cinnabarium is used in making flavoring agents, jam etc. The fried corolla of the species is liked by local inhabitants in Sikkim which taste delicacy while it is poisonous to animals.
Rhododendron setosum is used in making of aromatic oil, perfumery and cosmetics.
Extract from the Rhododendron thomsonii is used as natural insecticides as in valley of North Sikkim, while it is toxic/poisonous to human beings.

Religious:
Rhododendron lepidotum and Rhododendron anthopogum’s leaves are used as incense in Buddhist Monasteries. The flowers are used as offerings to pay homage and for decoration purpose at social occasions.

Other uses:
Rhododendron arboretum’s wood is used to make Khukris’ handle, box and are as well used as common fire wood and occasionally converted to charcoal for blacksmith work.Rhododendron falconeri is used in making covers for fruit packaging, bamboo shoots’ canning etc. for distant marketing.Rhododendron fulgens’s leaves are used as wick for lighting fires by the local inhabitants of northern Sikkim, while Rhododendron hodgsonii’s wood is used to make spoon and ladles and also handles of khukri. Since the wood is hard, is a good fire wood and making wooden rods etc. Also the leaves of R. hodgsonii are used for packing apples and other temperate fruits.

Any thoughts?

Greebe

abo4ster
10-25-2011, 06:45 PM
Toxic to humans and pets. Here you go...
http://cal.vet.upenn.edu/projects/poison/plants/ppazale.htm
http://rhodyman.net/rhodytox.html

Mountain Laurel I believe is more toxic.
http://cal.vet.upenn.edu/projects/poison/plants/ppmount.htm
http://www.caf.wvu.edu/~forage/library/poisonous/page6.htm

I personally wouldn't even make a hot dog stick with it. I don't even burn it when its dried out.

WestrnBushcrft
10-25-2011, 06:57 PM
Hmmm so it's poisonous and safe botanists are sooo confusing!!!

Greebe
10-25-2011, 07:02 PM
I found this study from the UK. I don't know if they have the same types of Rhododendron as we do in the states,but the information makes it sound like there is little toxicity in dried wood or the smoke from burning it.

Here is the link to the study if anyone is interested:
www.wildresources.co.uk/reports/rhodo_eng.pdf

Greebe

Greebe
10-25-2011, 07:06 PM
Toxic to humans and pets. Here you go...
http://cal.vet.upenn.edu/projects/poison/plants/ppazale.htm
http://rhodyman.net/rhodytox.html

Mountain Laurel I believe is more toxic.
http://cal.vet.upenn.edu/projects/poison/plants/ppmount.htm
http://www.caf.wvu.edu/~forage/library/poisonous/page6.htm

I personally wouldn't even make a hot dog stick with it. I don't even burn it when its dried out.

Thanks for the links. Looks like you posted this as I was trying to get my post done with the pdf link. Probably best to stay away from. Too bad though since the stuff is everywhere.

Grizzix
10-25-2011, 07:31 PM
Check with Edibleplantguy here on the forum. He seems to know his stuff when it comes to this...stuff.

Pinebaron
10-25-2011, 08:13 PM
I am no where near as good as abo4ster is at plant ID so I tend to keep things simple and safe. One of MY rules is: If it has shiny leaves don't eat it.

I've always heard Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel are toxic...and they got shiny leaves. Mountain Laurel poisoning is supposed to be very unpleasant.

Peacelovingirl
10-25-2011, 08:43 PM
I am no where near as good as abo4ster is at plant ID so I tend to keep things simple and safe. One of MY rules is: If it has shiny leaves don't eat it.

I've always heard Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel are toxic...and they got shiny leaves. Mountain Laurel poisoning is supposed to be very unpleasant.

I didn't know the shiny leaf rule. Thanks, I did know to stay away from hairy or brightly colored leaves. white,yellow or red berrys, Purple or red viens. Milky sap. and a bitter smell. Although some plants are exceptions to the rules most follow it.

wadragunov
10-25-2011, 10:10 PM
Peterson's field guide for Medicinal Plants and herbs says both are toxic. Both have been used for various treatments in very minute doses. Mountain Laurel is highly toxic; even the honey is reportedly toxic. Rhododendron is listed as leaves being toxic; ingestion may cause convulsions and coma.

edibleplantguy
10-26-2011, 07:55 AM
Greetings All,

And thanks for some excellent references. My sense of this issue, from my own research as well as that done by folks in some of these references is that all Rhododendron spp., including azaleas, are very toxic when alive; because all parts, everything from leaves to (perhaps) 'mad honey' have the very potent andromedotoxin present. The highest toxin levels are found in new shoots and buds.

There is still some question about whether 'mad honey' is toxic from these compounds or others. A paper cited in one of the above references says that upon analysis, no grayanotoxins (andromedotoxins) were found in a sample of 'mad honey.' This is consistent with the fact that there are hardly any reports of human fatality from this honey; it knocks one out for 12 to 24 hours. When Mithridites used it against the Romans in ~57BC, even though the Roman army had consumed large doses of the toxic honey, they didn't die from it: they died by the sword when being found by Mithridites army while unconscious. Those who weren't found by the army were completely recovered the next day.

However, in my opinion, the chances for a clinical poisoning event from using a utensil made from dried Rhododendron wood is very very low. Such an article could be made even safer by running the wood through a dishwasher since these toxins are water soluble.

Thanks for reading.

edibleplantguy

madmax
10-26-2011, 08:16 AM
Greetings All,
... The highest toxin levels are found in new shoots and buds.



...However, in my opinion, the chances for a clinical poisoning event from using a utensil made from dried Rhododendron wood is very very low. Such an article could be made even safer by running the wood through a dishwasher since these toxins are water soluble.

Thanks for reading.

edibleplantguy

That supports my experience in using dried Rhododendron. I thought maybe I was very tolerant.

abo4ster
10-26-2011, 08:18 AM
Nice post edibleplantguy.

According to Mark from the Medicine Bow (http://d845124.test42.slangdatabase.com/?page_id=8), who is well versed in Cherokee medicine and backs up his plant knowledge scientifically with a degree in chemistry/pre-med, states that the dried wood is no longer toxic and if I remember correctly, he will burn it, when dry.

My earlier post, I stated "personally," that I would not burn it or use it as a utensil, even dry. Mountain Laurel, same family as Rhododendron, is nasty stuff. My advice is just stay away from it. Maybe I am overreacting, but getting sick from these plants in the Ericaceae Family is supposed to be VERY unpleasant.

Grits
10-26-2011, 08:22 AM
However, in my opinion, the chances for a clinical poisoning event from using a utensil made from dried Rhododendron wood is very very low. Such an article could be made even safer by running the wood through a dishwasher since these toxins are water soluble.
edibleplantguy

Good to know! Never thought about doing the hot wash and rinse....

abo4ster
10-26-2011, 08:24 AM
That supports my experience in using dried Rhododendron. I thought maybe I was very tolerant.

There are several plants in north Florida in the heath family, and not, that the bark looks exactly like Rhododendron. One example is fetterbush. Just passing along as an FYI.

madmax
10-26-2011, 08:28 AM
So Abo, have you got any first hand accounts? My wife and I spend alot of time up in those parts and I don't want to poison any friends or family with smoke. We have had no problems in many years of burning it. But I don't want to. Maybe we just got lucky and injested small amounts. It really sucks as a fire wood anyway. LOL

madmax
10-26-2011, 09:00 AM
Thanks for the pm Abo! Green Rhodo is bad. :dblthumb:

abo4ster
10-26-2011, 09:05 AM
So Abo, have you got any first hand accounts? My wife and I spend alot of time up in those parts and I don't want to poison any friends or family with smoke. We have had no problems in many years of burning it. But I don't want to. Maybe we just got lucky and injested small amounts. It really sucks as a fire wood anyway. LOL

Not personally as we avoid it. I have heard second hand of Boy Scouts in the area getting sick from using it as a hot dog stick (green Mountain Laurel). I have searched news articles for stuff like this, but came up empty ~ not sure if that would have been news worthy anyway.

Nonetheless, the science is there as to it's toxicity.

That being said and keeping things in context, I have young kids who go to the woods with me frequently, therefore, I am hypersensitive to this subject. Especially the Mountain Laurel. The dried stuff is supposed to be OK, I still don't use it because of the kids. Sincerely hope that helps. Chris

madmax
10-26-2011, 09:07 AM
Sorry man. Didn't mean to inflame the conversation at all. We're good.

riverjoe
10-26-2011, 07:44 PM
I am no where near as good as abo4ster is at plant ID so I tend to keep things simple and safe. One of MY rules is: If it has shiny leaves don't eat it.

I've always heard Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel are toxic...and they got shiny leaves. Mountain Laurel poisoning is supposed to be very unpleasant.

You don't eat Swiss Chard ???? You don't know what you're missing .

Greebe
10-28-2011, 04:50 PM
Thanks for all the responses. I appreciate the input.

Greebe
10-28-2011, 05:35 PM
So wait you guys are saying that I should stop using green Rhododendron for smoking my food? -- Just kidding. :D

Woods Walker
11-19-2011, 02:41 AM
This thread needs photos.

http://i113.photobucket.com/albums/n220/Daytraderwon/Camp2/IMG_7128.jpg

http://i113.photobucket.com/albums/n220/Daytraderwon/Camp2/IMG_7067.jpg

Greebe
11-19-2011, 08:48 PM
Thanks for posting some photos.

Woods Walker
11-19-2011, 11:15 PM
No problem. Hard to tell from those photos but the Rhododendrons in that area are very high. The place is called Rattlesnake swamp just off the AT. Another good Rhododendron bit-o-info is they roll up their leaves as the temps fall into the lower 20's and colder. I never wandered off trail into the stuff but have with Mountain Laurels and they don't call that a hell for nothing. :( Betting Rhododendron has the same "keep out or get lost and make zero headway" attributes.

dRobinson
10-22-2013, 05:24 PM
I was up in the NC mountains camping the last two weekends where rhododendron and mountain laurel are... everywhere. The laurel tunnels that develop around trails are pretty amazing. Anyway, I heard a few months back that the burning of rhododendron was a bad idea - the source (uncertain of the reliability) didn't specify whether it was the burning of green, dead, or both was toxic.

That being said, when I was camping the last two weeks in the mountains there were a couple of occasions where it was just too easy to get my fires going with dead, DRIED rhododendron twigs. Inevitably, I probably inhaled several big lungfulls of the smoke. I'm still here without ill effect. I can't speak to any effects related to the consumption or burning of live rhododendron, but burning dead rhododendron didn't harm me.

[disclaimer: the fact that it didn't harm me doesn't mean it is not toxic, simply that it didn't affect me]

ineffableone
10-22-2013, 06:40 PM
Just a little addition to this thread, the topic of can you burn this wood keeps coming up, so lets clear that one up.

When burned the gryanotoxin is destroyed at temperatures of 300 degrees C or 572 degrees F and above. A campfire will range in temperature depending on what you are burning. If you are burning a dry hard wood, the temperature ranges anywhere from 900 to 1100 degrees C or 1652 and 2012 degrees F. No evidence of toxicity has been found in the smoke or coals of the rhododendron plant. It is a hard long-burning wood and can be used safely.

I grew up in the Pac NW and regularly used rhododendron wood in fires. Often in such a wet forest rhododendron wood was the only choice for dry wood. However you really don't even need to worry about the toxin unless it is green rhododendron wood. Dried rhododendron wood tends to have the majority of the toxin leached out of the wood through the weathering that dried it.

Vanitas
10-22-2013, 06:52 PM
Hmmm so it's poisonous and safe botanists are sooo confusing!!!

Even honey made from Rhodies is toxic. Which since there are TONS of rhodies in MA I wont eat the local honey. I have seen areas full of rhody undergrowth 100 yards from where bees were being kept.

Now with that said, my mother's 20+ year old cat ate a few Azalea leaves without even getting sick. Normally it would kill a cat or dog.

Oh and yes you can burn rhodies... in fact it use to be made into charcoal since it is very dense.

Edited. Dono what I'm smokin today. Too tired.

DarkXstar
10-23-2013, 01:55 AM
one thing you need to remember when you are thinking about natural medicinal most are toxic to some point. mountain laurel is extremely toxic also known as lamb kill I have read but havn't tested that even the honey made from the flowers is toxic. personally i wouldnt use rhododenron for anything that was going in my mouth
What part of the state are in btw

Woods Walker
10-23-2013, 08:57 PM
Yea know it is getting cold out when the rhododendron leaves curl.

edit. Oh smack, I already posted that in this thread some time ago. That was a fast two years. At this rate I will be dead from old age real fast.