Quick Facts about rosary peas:
Callers to the poison center ask, “Are rosary peas are toxic? What are the symptoms if someone eats them?”
Rosary pea or jequirity bean (Abrus precatorius) is a slender climbing, woody vine native to the warm climates of Asia, Africa, and Australia. But, this plant is also in the United States (including southern Missouri along the Arkansas border) and is spread by humans and birds. The rosary pea plant has an eye-catching seed or bean used to make ornamental jewelry and musical instruments such as a maraca. These seeds are shiny and bright red with a black spot at the end.
Rosary peas contain a toxic substance called abrin; however, someone must chew them thoroughly to get to the poison since it has a tough outer shell. Some other common names for rosary peas include jequirity bean, crab’s eye, prayer bead, red-bead vine, wild licorice, and weather plant.
What happens if a person swallows a rosary pea?
Usually, accidental ingestions of rosary peas do not cause serious symptoms because the shell protects the body from the poison. However, poisoning can happen if someone chews or swallows multiple peas.
Serious symptoms from rosary peas are rare and are mostly from intentional ingestions. Swallowing enough of the poison abrin causes vomiting and diarrhea that may become bloody. Loss of fluids can lead to severe dehydration, followed by low blood pressure, hallucinations, and seizures. Multiple organs can be damaged which may lead to death. This should not happen in accidental swallowing of a pea by a child.
If you find someone has been exposed to rosary peas, do not panic. Wipe out the mouth with a soft, wet cloth, and wash any skin exposed with soap and lukewarm water. Call the Missouri Poison Center right away at 1-800-222-1222. The poison center is open all day, every day, for poisoning emergencies and questions.