A cautionary tale for all gardeners…. Not just whilst holidaying in St Ives….

2 CommentsWednesday, 13 October 2021  |  Alison

Maybe, by now, you know that I am an avid gardener of many years standing.  This applies even whilst on holiday, but this is a salutary reminder for even the most experienced weeder about the possible hazards of handling the potentially noxious plant that is Euphorbia.

To put you in the picture, my sister and I always stay in a holiday property with a garden whenever we travel to St Ives in Cornwall. We like to sit outside in the mornings, sipping Earl Grey tea, looking at the crossword and enjoying quiet time before re-joining the world on the beach, whatever the weather.

Having duly checked with the owner that she was happy for me to have a play in her garden, I made a start on the sunny breakfast terrace pots - watering, cutting off dead or fading leaves and removing weeds. Funnily enough, I have never had anyone turn down my offer to do a bit of pottering in their garden.  They generally live elsewhere in the country, especially during the summer season and are grateful for the help.

Although I always travel with trowel and secateurs, and who doesn’t, I didn’t have gloves with me. Not a catastrophe in itself, as I often don’t use them when I am only going to do a few minutes tidying and neatening. However, on this occasion I was pulling up the small, ubiquitous weed Euphorbia Peplus (Petty spurge). I know, I know…. I should have worn gloves. I have Euphorbias in my garden as they give great structure, form, seasonal colour in borders and many are evergreen. I wear gloves when touching them. Mostly.

I rubbed my eye to block the sun, ate a warmed croissant because it was there and soon enough the discomfort started. My left eye and nose started streaming, the sensation of burning in my inner eyelid soon made blinking very uncomfortable. Keeping with the seaside theme, it felt as though I had built a sandcastle in my eye and the incoming tide was trying to wash it away, grain by gritty grain. A few minutes later, with eye puffed up and by now, lips swollen and tingling too, I realised it wasn’t just sun cream in my eye, but a reaction to the euphorbia.

My niece consulted Google and suggested she walk me straight to the pharmacist to get advice, not mentioning that the discomfort could last for a week or so and I may need an antibiotic cream in my eye plus antihistamine tablets. 

With a quantity of tissue stuffed up my left nostril, a couple of wetted cotton wool pads covering my eye and looking a picture of health I wore sunglasses for this trip to Boots, more as a disguise than for shade from the sun as I was led arm in arm by my niece. By now I couldn’t really see out of either eye. 

I was quite relieved when the concerned and helpful pharmacist told me to just use an eye bath regularly.  Use Optrex, he said, as it has witch hazel to soothe and calm and return later in the day if things were not improving.   They did improve, after several eye bathing sessions, ibuprofen, paracetamol and a sleep.  But I did have to miss the ‘sand’ sandwiches that day on the beach.

So, as we gardeners tidy our planters and borders this autumn, a timely reminder from me, to us gardeners to practice what I preach.

All parts of Euphorbia plants are known to be skin irritants, especially the white milky sap that comes from broken stems.  Gardening advice is to always wear gloves and long-sleeved garments when handling these plants. I know that.

Maybe…. next holiday time I will take the time to pack some gardening gloves along with my trusty trowel and sturdy secateurs. Maybe…. I won’t garden on holiday. Maybe.... I will take the Optrex with me.     

Happy and Safe Gardening!

Your Brookside Scribbler,


Sylvia Payne
Thursday, 14 October 2021  |  17:23

Very interesting read,I too have had eye & nasal problems with chillies.In the polytunnel they grew quite tall and had several rows, so to pick them I pushed my head through the plants to get at the ones at the back, ever since I have had sinus type nasal pain and gritty eyes that I just had to keep closed.Optrex and various eye washes were the only answer, other than stop putting my head through the foliage.This was obviously irritating to me.

Sarah Drea
Thursday, 14 October 2021  |  22:35

I knew it's a skin irritant, but never thought how it could affect eyes and mouth! Thank you for posting - i have loads of it in the garden and never wear gloves - but I will be doing when I weed this one out now

Brookside Nursery