Walk through the potion garden

I love poisoning people.

Fictional people, that is.

Many people find this surprising, because in addition to writing books, I am also a doctor. I’m in the business of practically keeping people alive. But on my break, I kill the characters.

Killing people with bullets or knives is generally a simple affair. But killing people with plants is especially appealing. After all, there is a lot of history of poisoning when using the plant. Look at Socrates and Cleopatra, both of whom were killed for drinking a drink containing the witch hazel.

In my two books, The half-life of Ruby Fielding and Impossible girl, I mainly rely on plant lore and plant poison for the main plot points. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)

In impossible girl, Cora Lee tries to fake her own death to avoid those who are trying to kill her. She drank a concoction containing fox gloves, belladonna, along with some opium. The fox glove to slow down her heart; ringing will cause her pupils to widen, as seen in death; and opiates to slow her breathing and sedation. Belladonna also helps counteract the pupillary constriction commonly seen with opiate ingestion.

In Ruby Fielding’s half-life, The protagonist seems obsessed with growing common but poisonous plants – azaleas, hydrangeas and hellebore – in quiet Gravesend, Brooklyn. Is she a killer? Is it her? Who dares come close enough to find out the truth? Definitely say no when she offers you tea.

Poisonous plants have been helpful colleagues in creating these stories. Let me lead you through my potions garden. Don’t touch anything. And for good sake, there’s also no taste testing.


Photo illustrations by Elizabeth Brockway / The Daily Beast / Getty

The Foxglove, or Digitalis purpurea, is a beautiful specimen that can sit right in your very own flower garden. It produces a lovely pink or purplish cone-shaped flower. It can also kill you pretty quickly.

I was fascinated by fox skin gloves when I was a medical student. One of the chemicals in the plant is digoxin, which is still used today as a medicine for patients with heart failure. Digoxin and its parent plant, foxglove, can easily be fatal if taken in excess. Although it is mentioned in writings as early as 1250, foxgloves and its extracts were used more formally in the 1700s as a treatment for “ascites”. “, a classic term for heart failure. By increasing the force of the heart’s contraction, the patient’s leg swelling, lung congestion, and shortness of breath can be improved.

But to recall an observation made by the 16th-century physician and alchemist Paracelcus, “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; the dose alone makes it one. which is not poison.” In other words, it’s all about dosage. Digoxin has a very narrow therapeutic index, which means it is too easy to take in a toxin amount. Symptoms of poisoning may include seeing colored halos around objects, disorientation, hallucinations, shock, irregular heartbeat, nausea and vomiting. In impossible girl, fox gloves keep Cora’s heart rate slow, but can kill her in the process.

Rhododendron and Azalea


Photo illustrations by Elizabeth Brockway / The Daily Beast / Getty

Azalea and rhododendron shrubs, with their fuchsia clusters and glossy green leaves, are a common sight on American grounds. And yes, they can easily poison you, which is why Ruby Fielding is a bit obsessed with them. They are quite deadly, as the toxin grayanotoxin (also called andromedotoxin) can cause dizziness, nausea and vomiting, behavioral changes, low blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. Fascinatingly, honey made from azaleas and azaleas, or “crazy honey,” was described in 401 BC by a Greek warrior and historian Xenophon as a poison known used on a group of soldiers, causing them to act “too drunk” for three to four days. . In 67 BC, King Mithridates of Pontus left jars of poisoned honey for the Romans to consume. Mithridates and his Persian army won easily against their dazed, drugged opponents.



Photo illustrations by Elizabeth Brockway / The Daily Beast / Getty

I recently saw a cover of Better houses and gardens covered with hellebore flowers and sighed.

“Very nice. Deadly,” I whisper amusedly while making pasta for dinner. (The kids are fine, by the way).

In ancient times, hellebore was divided into two types, black hellebore (the pretty flowers on magazine covers) and white hellebore (it had small flowers and leaves that resembled corn stalks). In modern botanical terms, the white hellebore is not a true hellebore and is unrelated to the black hellebore, but both are dangerous in their own right. Hippocrates was likely poisoned by the white hellebore, which grows abundantly on the east and west coasts of the United States, and can cause nausea, vomiting, numbness, convulsions, and shock. When animals graze on it, their young can resemble a hound with only one eye.

Beautiful black hellebores are gorgeous enough to be cover models in horticultural magazines and can be conveniently found in your local horticultural store for purchase. But don’t judge a book by its cover. Consuming these gorgeous flowers can make you vomit blood.

hydrangea tree


Photo illustrations by Elizabeth Brockway / The Daily Beast / Getty

Who doesn’t love this vibrant flower? If it’s not in your yard yet, it’s in Hurry up! bouquet is sent to your home after you get poisoned with it. Every part of the plant contains hydrungin, a cyanogenic glycoside. When consumed, cyanide is released in your digestive system, causing vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Large doses will cause you to stop breathing and cause death.

Belladonna and the humble potato


Photo illustrations by Elizabeth Brockway / The Daily Beast / Getty

Ah, belladonna. The plant is called Atropa belladonna, which botanist Carl Linnaeus named “beautiful woman” in Italian. In the 1700s, he noted that women used eye drops made from the juice of berries to dilate their pupils, a sign of attractive beauty. Cora Lee, in impossible girl, Use it to make her appear more, er, dead. But belladonna isn’t just for the eyes. This plant is one of the most poisonous in the world, containing ingredients that can cause hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions.

Belladonna is also known as “death in the night.” While you don’t often find belladonna in people’s yards or gardens, you’ll still find other nocturnal fruits there – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, and evening primroses. Not so deadly, right? Except for the small potato. If that crust gets old in your refrigerator and turns a little green, it may contain toxic amounts of a glycoalkaloid called solanin, which is concentrated in the skin. Too bad? Well, a generous plate of green potato skins stuffed with bacon and cheese could kill an average man.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/dont-eat-that-a-walk-through-a-poison-garden?source=articles&via=rss Walk through the potion garden


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: hung@interreviewed.com.

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