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Can Succulents Cause Cancer? Everything You Need To Know

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

In this day and age lots of things can help develop cancer, but are succulents one of them?We often take our succulents to the local markets. Apart from earning money, it also gives us a great opportunity to talk to our customers. This blog has partially been started because we wanted to share our knowledge, experiences and answer some of the questions we’ve been asked at the markets over the years. At our last market I’ve been asked a question I’ve never heard before. While a bit baffled as I didn’t quite know the answer, it sent me on a journey to find out more about it.

The findings I’m about to present are not medical advice, they are merely our interpretation of information found online. We are not experts, nor are we qualified to give any advice. Any concerns should be consulted with professionals. However, i did try and look at peer reviewed, scientific articles and have linked them below.

In our opinion, there is so far no evidence that would suggest that simply coming into contact with succulents does cause cancer. However, there was one study which specifically looked at the Euphorbia Tirucalli aka 'African Milk Bush' or 'Firesticks', which had some interesting findings.

Let's have a closer look at the evidence and the research.

The Link Between Euphorbia Tirucalli and Cancer

Before ripping out the Euphorbias from your garden let’s examine what the research actually says. It also needs to be pointed out that according to the Cancer Research UK “Further research is necessary to confirm the link between exposure to African milkbush (Euphorbia Tirucalli) sap and Burkitt’s Lymphoma”.

This research looked at a common childhood cancer in Africa called Burkitt’s Lymphoma caused by a virus called Eppstein-Barr. Scientists in US have found that the sap from Euphorbia Tirucalli aka Firesticks or African Milkbush found throughout many parts of Africa may be a risk factor, affecting the Eppstein- Barr virus and switching it into a more active state. In this active state the virus is more likely to trigger cancer.

The researchers found that the Euphorbia sap in Africa is often used as medicine, glue and children play with the gooey sap and very likely ingest it.

It has been known for some time that the Euphorbia sap in both succulent and non-succulent plants in the genus is poisonous to people, can cause skin irritation and even blindness if the sap gets into the eyes and is left untreated. People allergic to latex can experience more severe reactions. It is also toxic to pets. The sap is said not to be deadly though.

According to the FDA there is not enough well documented studies to prove direct link with succulents causing cancer to humans. To put it in perspective smoking and air pollution have much greater harmful impact on the body than coming into contact with ornamental plants.

Aloe Vera and Cancer

Now this one really surprised me. Although we knew that Aloes, if ingested, have powerful laxative properties we have never heard of their potential to cause cancer, especially not THE Aloe Vera.

We have come across some very confusing articles regarding this claim about Aloe Vera’s link with cancer. Some articles pointed to studies on rodents, where Aloe Vera, if ingested untreated, could cause Colon Cancer (no studies are available on humans). Other’s have said that the Aloe used in the these studies is a different type to Aloe Vera and therefore the study is not valid. We could not confirm this claim though.

We would definitely not recommend eating any parts of Aloe straight from the garden. Aloe products on the shops shelves are generally safe, but make sure to stick to the recommended dosage and be aware of any possible side effects. Aloe products may cause diarrhoea, upset stomach, skin rash and some other, more serious side effects such as liver inflammation and blood clotting have been reported too. It is also said that Aloe products may interact with other medicine and herbs, so it is always a good idea to consult a doctor before use.

Rubbing Aloe on your skin is said to be safe though.

While we couldn’t find any other succulents that have a link to cancer, there are some succulents that are poisonous to pets and potentially to humans, if eaten. The great majority of succulents are considered safe for humans and pets. We could not find any evidence that a human or a pet died due to consuming a succulent.

The below succulents are considered poisonous to pets. If your child ingests any of these, it may be a good idea to see a doctor, just in case.

  • Crassula Ovata

  • Crassula Arborescens

  • Euphorbias (avoid all Euphorbia sap)

  • Kalanchoes (it is said that all Kalanchoes may have some level of poisonous properties for pets and possibly humans)

  • Sanseveria Trifasciata

  • Senecio Rowleyanus

  • Senecio Radicans (we could only find limited information on the toxicity of this plant, but there is a possibility)

It is very possible there are other succulents out there that are poisonous and could even help develop cancer, however the above information is all we could find at this point in time.

In conclusion, there is not a lot of evidence available to provide a definite link between succulents and cancer, though there is limited research for some Euphorbias and Aloe Vera, but the Aloe research could potentially be questionable.

If you have small children or pets that are prone to chewing anything and everything, it would probably be best to avoid these plants or put them out of reach. Although this is only anecdotal evidence and our personal experience, we have never heard of anyone or their pet getting ill from coming into contact with succulents.

Our two pet dogs that are with us at all times in the nursery, where we have all the toxic plants mentioned above growing in pots and in the ground, have never been sick or had any adverse effects from being around these plants. That is not to say other's haven't, but we could not find any evidence to suggest this.

To put the above info into perspective, there are many more popular ornamental plants and also native wild plants that are toxic and so common, they pretty much unavoidable (Oleander, Hydrangea, Coral Tree, Angel’s Trumpets, English Ivy, White Cedar and lots of mushrooms species to name just a few) and generally in your everyday life, it is likely you will come across much more potent carcinogens or toxins than your succulents or other plants (Alcohol, Air Pollution, Smoking, Powerful Cleaning Products, some Glues, Building Materials etc.)

If you would like to read more about toxic plants and succulents, these are some of the articles we found across the internet.

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