Interestingly it is not universally toxic to animals; for instance the black berries are eaten by birds like greenfinches without any harm (SAPS, 2012), and in the past used as a veterinary cure for horses (Eland, 2012). It has also been used occasionally in the past for medicinal purposes, such as folk treatments for cancer, toothache and rheumatism (Eland, 2012). Johnson (1856) refers to a “decoction of the root and bark being recommended for children afflicted with worms”, but goes on to warn that “it should never be used, being one of those remedies that can only be employed at the risk of life”. He continues with a more strident note –“The Lady Bountiful of the village would do more good by confining her benevolent practice to the issue of nourishing food and warm clothing, where necessary, than by trying to combat disease by remedies of which the action is equivocal, if not, as in this instance, dangerous in the highest degree.”
In modern times opinion of Spurge-laurel very much leans towards Mr Johnson’s – well at least botanically rather than his gender insinuations.
Alonso, C., García, I.M, Zapata, N. and Pérez, R.(2009) Variability in the behavioural responses of three generalist herbivores to the most abundant coumarin in Daphne laureola leaves. Entomologia Experimentalis et applicata, 32(1):76-83Eland, S. (2012) [online] Plant Biographies http://www.plantlives.com/docs/D/Daphne_laureola.pdf [Accessed 7/03/12]
Johnson, C. (1856) British Poisonous Plants. London: Taylor & Francis.
Science and Plants for Schools (SAPS) (2012) [online] http://www-saps.plantsci.cam.ac.uk/trees/laurels.htm [Accessed 7/03/12]