If I could have another life and choose to be someone else, I might choose to be Amy Stewart. She has found such a lovely niche to occupy and I am enchanted with the two books I have read of hers so far: The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants. In this post, I will focus on the latter, choosing to briefly highlight some of my favorite poisonous, dangerous, and sometimes deadly, plants.
Warning: do not go and seek these out. Do not attempt to rub them all over your skin or worse, ingest them, unless you wish to suffer from a host of malodorous symptoms, many of which you might not survive.
I will start with Deadly Nightshade, the “Hitchcock” of poison plants. This plant entices you with its shiny, bulbous, purple-black berries, but please, avoid the temptation and eat a blackberry instead. Ingesting just one might lead you to experience rapid heartbeats, confusion and meaningless speech, hallucinations, and even seizures. However, if you are looking for ways to make yourself look sexy, then Deadly Nightshade might be able to help – you might drop a mild tincture of the plant into your eyes to dilate your pupils, as Italian women once did to make themselves look more beautiful.
This is presumably how Deadly Nightshade received its nickname of belladonna.
Infamous in India for its ability to kill quickly and swiftly, the Suicide Tree will kill you within three to six hours of ingestion of one of its fruits. It grows well in mangrove swamps, and is known by its dark green leaves and sprays of starry white flowers, like that of jasmine, which grow beside its fleshy green fruits, which Stewart describes as “small, unripe mangoes.”
Indian women looking for their last meal might mix the mashed odollam nut of the Suicide Tree with jaggery, a sweet sap, before experiencing something similar to a heart attack and taking their last breaths.
She’s a bad one. Can’t you tell by her name?
This plant is native to Arizona and Mexico, and its sap is highly toxic. Ingested, it is most likely fatal. If you’re out in the desert, stay away from a nettle-like plant with small white flowers. Even brushing up against it can cause an excruciating rash.
If you have read Harry Potter (or you’ve seen the movies) you have heard of mandrake. It is the gnarled, gingery-looking root that belongs to the nightshade family (your golden russet potato does, too). Legend says that if you pull mandrake from the ground, it will shriek, because if you’ve ever looked good and hard at a mandrake root, it looks like a little person with its limbs all knotted and jumbled together.
If you happen to eat mandrake, you might experience irregular heartbeats and hallucinations.
Don’t be fooled by its blue and/or white blossoms; monkshood can paralyze and/or kill you. However, these flowers (like a myriad of other poisonous blooms) often find themselves in bouquets; florists must be careful not to touch the stems of the aconite plant, says Stewart, as even brief skin contact can bring about numbness and a host of cardiac problems.
This concludes your brief lesson on Wicked Plants today. Now, go forth and work on your green thumb.