Is The Wandering Jew Plant Poisonous or Toxic?

You may have heard Wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebrina) is edible, but this is entirely incorrect. 

This misunderstanding comes from the fact the plant shares the common name, Spiderwort, with a couple of other plants in the same genus which are edible. 

wandering jew plant growing as a groundcover

The fact is, Wandering Jew (and several similar plants in this genus) contain very irritating sap, while the plants sharing its common name (Tradescantia Virginiana and Tradescantia ohiensis) have edible flowers, stems, and leaves. 

These edible plants may also be called Blue Jacket or Day Flower.

What Parts Of The Wandering Jew Plant Are Poisonous or Toxic?

The sap of most members of the Tradescantia genus is irritating to the skin. 

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ASPCA does not specifically list Tradescantia zebrina as toxic, and it does list a close relative, Tradescantia fluminensis (which also goes by the common name, Wandering Jew) as being a skin irritant to cats, dogs, and horses.

What Are The Symptoms Of Poisoning?

The sap can cause dermatitis in people, dogs, cats, horses, and other living things. 

It is unclear whether ingesting the sap would cause serious effects, but at a bare minimum, it would surely cause irritation of the mouth and throat. 

Although there is little information regarding the effects of Wandering Jew when ingested, it is worth noting the sap of this plant and its leaves are used in a wide variety of folk medicines in many parts of the world. 

Prepared as a tea, a compress or a decoction, it is said to be an effective treatment against a wide array of ailments, including:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • The Common Cold
  • Kidney Stones
  • Tuberculosis
  • Diabetes
  • Colitis
  • Cancer

The sap is also said to be effective as an antibacterial agent and an antioxidant.

While it’s hard to know whether or not these reports are true, it is worth noting frivolous use of folk cures is ill-advised, and care should be taken when handling plants used in this way. 

How To Protect Yourself When Handling The Wandering Jew Plant

The problem is most members of the Tradescantia genus look very much alike. 

Many are almost indistinguishable from one another. 

This way, it’s extremely important not to gather wild or naturalized plants as food unless you are certain of what you’re doing.

If you do accidentally gather Wandering Jew flowers, leaves, and stems to add to your salad or to sauté in your stir-fry, a skin rash may be your first clue as to their unsuitability for this purpose.

If you do develop dermatitis from contact with Wandering Jew or one of its relatives, begin by flushing the area thoroughly with cool water and then washing with soap and lukewarm water. 

This may resolve the problem. 

If it doesn’t and itching persists and/or blisters develop, mix a quart of cool water and a tablespoon of white vinegar and use this mixture to make a cool compress to relieve the pain and itching. 

If your symptoms don’t go away within twenty-four hours, see your doctor as he or she may want to prescribe steroids or antihistamines.

The bottom line is, even though Wandering Jew is only listed as a plant that can cause skin irritation, it’s a good idea not to eat it or any of its relatives. 

Furthermore, when handling plants in the Tradescantia family, be sure to wear gloves, long sleeves, and eye protection and wash up thoroughly afterward.