Is Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum) Toxic?

child surrounded by spanish broom flowers

The Bottom Line

All parts of the Spanish broom plant (Spartium junceum) are considered toxic. It can cause symptoms ranging from abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea to more serious effects like seizures and respiratory failure. 

closeup of spanish broom flower

The Full Story

Spanish broom (Spartium junceum) is a perennial shrub that is native to the Mediterranean regions of Europe, Spain, Madeira, and the Canary Islands. In North America, it is mostly found on the western coasts of Washington and California, but it has also been used as an ornamental plant in other regions of similar climate. It is a tall shrub that typically grows to 10–15 feet in height with branching, slim stems that have sparse, oval leaves and yellow, pea-like flowers scattered throughout.

Are Spanish Broom Plants Poisonous?

All parts of the plant have been found to contain compounds called cytisine and sparteine. These compounds are known as nicotinic alkaloids and are commonly found in tobacco plants. These alkaloids bind to nicotinic receptors in our bodies, like a lock and key, to produce a variety of effects on the nervous system. Cytisine is considered a selective, partial stimulant at specific nicotinic receptors that are also the target of smoking cessation drugs like varenicline (Chantix®) and has been used in parts of Eastern Europe as a smoking deterrent. Sparteine can have effects on heart rhythm.

Swallowing the seeds or other parts of Spanish broom can produce potentially toxic effects depending on the amount consumed. In case reports, the initial symptoms typically start within an hour after ingestion and can include mouth and throat irritation, salivation, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Other nervous system effects that might occur include dilated pupils, headaches, confusion, drowsiness, and hallucinations. In severe cases, progression to seizures, muscle paralysis, and respiratory failure can lead to death.

What should I do if someone eats part of a Spanish broom plant?

If you suspect someone has ingested part of a Spanish broom, get help now online or call 1-800-222-1222. Both options are free and available 24 hours a day.

Kristina Yee, PharmD
Certified Specialist in Poison Information

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Have a knowledgeable expert identify the plants and trees growing in your home, backyard, and neighborhood, so you know which ones are harmful and which ones are safe around children and pets.  
  • Call your local plant nursery to see if they can help you identify samples of plants.
  • Never eat an unknown plant or seed without verification from a clear field guide or someone with experience.

This Really Happened

Three adults (aged 62, 67, and 72 years) ate rice with Spanish broom flowers that were picked from a nearby meadow. There was immediate onset of symptoms, which included abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and tremors. The patients were seen at a hospital, and Poison Control was contacted for treatment recommendations. The patients were treated with activated charcoal and oral diazepam. After a 12-hour observation period, all symptoms had resolved, and the patients were discharged (Riccardi et al., 2006).

For More Information

Zouhar K. Spartium junceum. In: Fire Effects Information System. Missoula (MT): USDA Rocky Mountain Research Station [cited 2022 May 31].

Spanish broom. Olympia: Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board [cited 2022 May 23].

Spartium junceum. Berkeley: California Invasive Plant Council [cited 2022 May 25].


References

Courtney R, McRobbie H, Tutka P, Weaver N, Petrie D, et al. Effect of cytisine vs varenicline on smoking cessation: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2021 Jul 6;326(1):56–64.

Riccardi A, Frumento F, Ghinatti M, Guiddo G, Lerza R. Spanish broom flower ingestion: a very unusual poisoning. Eur J Emerg Med. 2006 Oct;13(5):317–8.

West R, Zatonski W, Cedzynska M, Lewandowska D, Pazik J, et al. Placebo-controlled trial of cytisine for smoking cessation. N Engl J Med. 2011 Sept 29;365(13):1193–200.

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Have a knowledgeable expert identify the plants and trees growing in your home, backyard, and neighborhood, so you know which ones are harmful and which ones are safe around children and pets.  
  • Call your local plant nursery to see if they can help you identify samples of plants.
  • Never eat an unknown plant or seed without verification from a clear field guide or someone with experience.

This Really Happened

Three adults (aged 62, 67, and 72 years) ate rice with Spanish broom flowers that were picked from a nearby meadow. There was immediate onset of symptoms, which included abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and tremors. The patients were seen at a hospital, and Poison Control was contacted for treatment recommendations. The patients were treated with activated charcoal and oral diazepam. After a 12-hour observation period, all symptoms had resolved, and the patients were discharged (Riccardi et al., 2006).