Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.
Other Common Name:
Be-still tree, Lucky nut (White, 2003).
Where is it found?
Various species of this ornamental shrub or small tree are native to southern Mexico and various other countries of Tropical America. The plants are now distributed worldwide in tropical areas, including parts of Australia, Africa, and Asia (especially in southern India and Sri Lanka).
In Mexico, the dried fruits containing the seeds are worn by traditional Aztec dancers as ankle bracelets, and are commonly known as “yóyotl”, which in the indigenous Náhuatl language means “rattle. This is due to the rattle-like noise they make when shaken together.
Parts of the plant used:
he leaves, seeds and milky latex (‘juice”) from the stem and leaves. The bark of the tree is sometimes used. However, it should be noted that all parts of the plant, including the flowers, are poisonous.
How is it used?
The latex (milky juice), the crushed seeds and the bark are used externally as pastes or poultices.
What is it used for?
In Mexico, the latex of the plant is applied in very small amounts to aching gums, as well as to the anal area in order to relive inflammation and pain due to hemorrhoids. This practice is very dangerous and should be avoided, as it can lead to poisoning (Martínez, 1989; Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011).
Externally, the dried bark as well as the crushed roots are made into a poultice or wash to treat skin infections (Quattrocchi, 2012).
Use as a “weight loss supplement”
Various products made from the seeds are falsely touted as “natural” and “safe” weight loss supplements, although there is no known scientific evidence for their efficacy or safety.
The crude seeds are sometimes available in some traditional markets and herbal stores along the U.S.-Mexico border, but products made from the plant are usually sold as capsules containing the powdered seed.
Yellow oleander fruit containing seeds
Various individuals and companies across the globe sell these products in stores or via the internet, promising “rapid and safe” weight loss.
As mentioned above, there are no clinical trials on record that indicate the plant has any effect on weight loss, but there are many documented reports from various countries around the world that clearly prove the plant’s toxicity (Wagstaff, 2008; Frohne and Pfander, 2005).
Products made from Yellow Oleander (known in Mexico as Yóyotl and Codo de Fraile) have been banned in that country, but unscrupulous individuals in various places across the globe continue to sell these products over the internet.
In some Spanish-speaking countries, the yellow oleander seed is also commonly known by the erroneous name of “nuez de la India”, which refers to a very different species (Aleurites moluccanus- Euphorbiaceae), known in English as “candlenut tree seed” (Mabberley, 2017).
The main toxins produced by these plants include Thevetins A and B, but others could also be present (according to the species), such as peruvoside, neriifolin, thevetoxin, and ruvoside, for example. The toxins are not destroyed by drying or heating, and their action is very similar to digoxin obtained from Digitalis purpurea (“foxglove”), a plant long used by physicians for heart ailments. The principal toxic effects of glycosides found in Thevetia species are related to their digitalis-like action on the heart (the toxins may produce fatal arrhythmias), as well as severe gastrointestinal irritation (Zamani and Aslani, 2010; Rajapakse, 2009). The seeds of yellow oleander are commonly used to commit suicide in southern India and Sri Lanka (Pirasath and Arulnithy, 2013; Mabberley, 2017).
Symptoms of Poisoning
Numbness and burning of the mouth
Nausea and vomiting
Abdominal pain and diarrhea
Drowsiness, coma, and occasional convulsions
In severe cases of poisoning, death is due to ventricular fibrillation of the heart.
Safety / Precautions
- All parts of the plant are toxic
- Do not use this plant, either externally or internally, for any reason
- Keep these plants away from children and pets
- Call your nearest poison control center immediately in case of accidental ingestion!
Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with your health care professional first. Avoid self-diagnosis and self-medication: Always be on the safe side!
Argueta, A. (Editor). Plantas Medicinales de Uso Tradicional en la Ciudad de México. Mexico City: UNAM; 2014; pp. 122-123.
Frohne D, Pfander H. Poisonous Plants 2nd ed. Portland OR: Timber Press; 2005.
Mabberley D J. Mabberley’s Plant Book 4th ed. London: Cambridge University Press; 2017; pp. 28, 919.
Martínez M. Las Plantas Medicinales de México. Mexico City: Editorial Botas; 1989.
Mendoza-Castelan G, Lugo-Perez R. Plantas Medicinales en los Mercados de México. Chapingo: Universidad Autónoma Chapingo; 2011; p. 318.
Pirasath S, Arulnithy K. Yellow oleander poisoning in eastern province: an analysis of admission and outcome. Indian J Med Sci. 2013; 67(7-8):178-83. doi: 10.4103/0019-5359.125879.
Quattrocchi, U. World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants (4 vols.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012; pp. 560-561.
Rajapakse S. Management of yellow oleander poisoning. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2009; 47(3):206-12. doi: 10.1080/15563650902824001.
Wagstaff J. International Poisonous Plant Checklist: An Evidence-Based Reference. CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL; 2008.
White R. Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Names of North America Including Mexico. Amsterdam: Elsevier; 2003; p. 193.
Zamani J, Aslani A. Cardiac findings in acute yellow oleander poisoning. J Cardiovasc Dis Res. 2010; 1(1):27-8. doi: 10.4103/0975-3583.59982.