Gardeners Beware! European Plant Could Poison Your Kidneys

A popular plant originating from the southeastern European region known as the Balkans is found to possess toxic attributes in the form of compounds known as artistolochic acids. These toxins have become so synonymous with the inducing of severe kidney damage that they’ve led to the ensuing condition being named Balkan Endemic Nephropathy.

The terrible ailment is made even worse by the accompanying upper tract urothelial carcinoma (a kind of bladder cancer) which typically occurs concomitantly. Scientists initial findings have estimated that as many as 100,000 people living in the Balkan region may be suffering from Balkan Endemic Nephropathy.

Birthwort has been used in traditional medicinal preparations by herbalists and folk healers for centuries, typically as a natural remedy for postpartum bleeding. Much of the exposure Balkan region dwellers have been known to have with Birthwort is linked to a popular tea brewed from the poisonous plant and believed to help treat gout and snakebites. In some cases, the weeds were also blended with grain and were subsequently consumed as a bread.

Unfortunately, the aristolochic acids which are responsible for the kidney and bladder complications may be prevalent in the soil itself, as a Hong Kong research team found traces of it in groundwater and several other vegetables being grown nearby Birthwort, implying it may not be necessary to directly consume Birthwort to be negatively impacted by its toxic attributes. 

Although supplements containing aristolochic acids have been banned for sale in the U.S. by the FDA for many years now, herbal remedies which make use of the poisonous substance can still be easily found on-line, where sales are a bit more difficult to regulate. For gardeners, would-be herbalists and people desperate to seek natural avenues to treat their health issues, we would issue a dire warning to exercise extreme caution when planting any plant containing aristolochic acids, especially the Birthwort plant. Any of the potential benefits could be far outweighed by the dangers.

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