THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

This site uses botanical names. Click here for an A to Z common name to botanical name converter.

Malus sylvestris 'John Downie', crab apple


Can apples really be poisonous? Theoretically, yes, but the hard outer surface of the pips prevents them being digested.



Meaning of the Name

From the Latin for ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ after its association with mankind’s fall from paradise. Note that the Old Testament does not name the apple referring only to the ‘Tree of Knowledge’. It is said that the original tree was, probably, an apricot but that was too exotic for northern climes and the point that temptation was all around would have been lost.
'John Downie'
Strictly speaking, the crab apple is Malus sylvestris ‘John Downie’ with sylvestris, 'wild' or 'growing in woods', being the species and ‘John Downie’ the variety but the sylvestris is usually dropped.

Common Names and Synonyms

crab apple

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

Malus 'John Downie', crab apple

Malus 'John Downie', crab apple

Like many fruit-bearing trees, the pips contain cyanolipids from which cyanide can be obtained. One way in which cyanide is obtained from cyanolipids is by maceration. Theoretically, chewing into an apple pip could produce cyanide gas but the amount from doing so as part of eating an apple would be tiny.

Ludicrous claims for would be terrorists are usually associated with Ricinus communis, castor oil plant, but it has been suggested that terrorists have attempted to process large quantities of apple pips to produce cyanide.

Cyanide works by blocking the ability of the blood to carry oxygen. This leads to a rapid depression of the central nervous system and death usually results from respiratory failure.


A case reported in 1942 said that a man collected apple pips until he had a small bowl full and ate them all at once. This case seems to have led to a number of apocryphal stories usually about 'a friend of a friend'.

Unconfirmed reports suggest a teacher in the north western United States committed suicide by eating a bowl of crushed apple seeds.

In 2005, Kamel Bourgass was convicted of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance by the use of poisons and/or explosives to cause disruption, fear or injury. The jury could not reach a verdict on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. Though Bourgass was found to have a number of recipes for producing cyanide, and chemical equipment was found at his home, there was no indication that he had actually produced any of the gas.

Folklore and Facts

The village of Egremont in Cumbria has, since 1266, held an annual crab apple fair.

These days this is when the World Gurning Championship is held.

The fruit is associated with finding love.

Modern apple varieties developed from crab apples so the apples which gave the Germanic gods eternal life were crab apples.

In Denmark, the presence of an adulterer makes the fruit wither.

'Avalon' the mythical paradise, means 'Place of Apples'. An apple wood wand is necessary for the spells to allow travel to the Otherworld.

The tree in the Garden of Eden is believed to have been an apricot, which was a very common tree in the Middle East. When the Old Testament came to Europe this was replaced by an apple tree because of the need to show that temptation was all around.