In my studies at LSU I learned that some Native Americans use of a plant species to stun fish and simply scoop them out of the water. As I did research for this article I discovered that there are actually a number of native plants here in the USA that can be used to capture fish in this manner!
Before you go out and try this on your own, keep in mind that this is illegal and should only be done in a survival situation.
How It Works
There are two groups of chemicals that come into play when using plants to poison fish. Saponins and Rotenones.
If you are using a saponin based poison it is taken up directly into the fish's bloodstream through their gills. The Saponin poison affects the ability of the fish to breathe. The fish basically pass-out until they reach clean water and then return to doing whatever it is fish do. Saponins are normally not fatal unless the fish is exposed to high doses for long periods of time.
The other group of poisons that are commonly used to poison fish are known as Rotenones. Rotenones also stun the fish by impairing the fish's ability to uptake oxygen from the water. The Rotenone does this via an alkaloid toxin which enters the fish, also through the gills. Rotenones are more deadly to fish and it is Rotenones that are commonly used by the Fish and Wildlife Agencies to kill of sections of stream or entire ponds to rid them of unwanted usually non-native fish species.
Regardless of which plant is used the method used is almost always the same. The plant part that contains the poison is smashed up so the poison can be readily dissolved in the water body to be fished. The fish float to the surface or just under and are scooped up for consumption.
Things To Keep In Mind
1. Do not do this in ponds that you want to use as a perpetual food source. You will likely kill of all or much of the fish in the pond and then it could take years for the fish population to become established again.
2. Large bodies of water are not practical targets because the sheer size of the water body will dilute the poison to much for it to be effective.
3. Fast flowing steams are also not good candidates because the constant influx of fresh clean water will quickly dilute the poison before it can be effective.
4. Slow flowing streams that have distinct pools are the best targets. The flow of water can be blocked by making a temporary dam to block the flow or simply decrease the flow enough to allow for minimal dilution.
So which plants have these poisons and can be used for this purpose?
- American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). Poison is found in the leaves.
- American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). Poison is found in the berries and leaves.
- Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) tree. Poison is contained in the bark and green nut husk.
- California Buckeye (Aesculus California). Poison is found in the nut.
- Devil's Shoestring (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus). The poison is found only in the roots.
- Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). Poison is contained in the fruit and twigs.
- Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum). Poison is found in the stalks and leaves.
- Indian Turnip (Arisaema triphyllum). Poison is found in the leaves.
- Soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum). Poison is found in the bulb.
- Turkey-Mullein (Eremocarpus setigerus). Poison is found in the leaves.
- Wild cucumber (Marah fabaceus) Poison is found in the seeds.