Spurge (Euphoriaceae) Family
Description: The Physic nut, or Jatropha plant, is a shrub or small tree found in the American tropics. Also known as Barbados Nut, Purging Nut, Black Vomit Nut, Physic Nut, or JCL, the plant can reach a height of 6 meters (20 feet) with spreading branches, stubby twigs, and greenish bark which leaks large amounts of sap when cut. It has large, 3-5 parted (lobed), alternately arranged, green to pale green leaves. It has small, greenish-yellow flowers that are often hidden by the foliage and its yellow, apple-sized fruits contain three large, oblong, black seeds and grow at the end of the plant’s stems.
The seeds taste sweet, but their oil is violently purgative. All parts of the physic nut are poisonous. Eating as few as three seeds can be fatal. Symptoms of poisoning occur about 30 minutes after ingestion and include burning in the throat, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, cardiovascular collapse, and diarrhea. Vomit and feces may contain blood. Give milk or water to dilute the toxic compounds or induce vomiting. Activated charcoal will help absorb the poisons.
Habitat and Distribution: Throughout the tropics and southern United States. Regardless, it is highly resistant to aridity and can be grown in deserts.
Other Uses: The seeds contain a dense concentration of oil which may be used as biodiesel fuel. The bark can be used as fish poison. In some countries, inhabitants chew the seeds as a laxative. Seeds and other plant parts have many useful medicinal properties.