THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Saturday 7th January 2012

The two pandas currently on an extended visit to Edinburgh Zoo don’t seem to have been the success the Scottish Nationalist government hoped for, so far. From rows about the total cost to the exposure of the cost to taxpayers for the welcome party that politicians said would be fully sponsored to the contrived Twitter spat after the female was named on a shortlist for the title ‘Woman of the Year’, bringing these two animals from China to show that Scotland is a proper country capable of having international relations doesn’t seem to be working.

I almost feel sorry for these poor animals that, probably, shouldn’t be alive if nature had been allowed to take its course. It is impossible to separate the impact of the human race on other species from what would have happened if we weren’t around but I’m pretty sure that pandas are an evolutionary cul de sac.

I find it ironic that in order to try and redress the harm the human race has done by interfering in the lives of numerous other species and their evolutionary development, we’re interfering in the evolutionary development of the panda, a species that is so unsuccessful it should have vanished by now.

Instead, a whole spectrum of people and organisations exploit the panda for their own purposes. So, I thought I might as well join in.

Because the panda turns out to be an excellent example of what Paracelsus said about poisons. Paracelsus, a Swiss doctor and philosopher from the early 16th century is frequently quoted on the subject of poisons. There are a number of ways of presenting Paracelsus’s core point about poisons but this comes from Arthur Edward Waite’s late 19th century translation;

[Other animals and fruits] are not in themselves either food or poisons, but, as regards themselves, and inasmuch as they are creatures, they share their perfection equally with us. When they are taken by us as food they are thus poison to us. Thus a thing becomes poison to us which in itself is by no means a poison.

That last sentence is the key to his ideas and it gets rendered as everything from ‘poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison’ to ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’.

It is central to understanding how the world of what we call poisonous plants works. In Paracelsus’s time, the notion was that the human race was at the core of creation and everything had to have some relation to us. That led to the notion that plants were, in some way, trying to get us.

What Paracelsus’s words have come to mean, though I’m not sure it is what he meant, is that there is no necessary reason for a plant to be poisonous to us and you cannot be absolute about what is and is not a poison.

And that brings us back to pandas. Everyone knows three things about pandas. They have cute ‘Aaaah!’ faces that have raised millions for animal charities. They are absolutely rubbish as reproducing. They eat bamboo. A lot of bamboo.

What many people won’t know is that bamboo is, to us, a highly toxic plant capable of causing death. Bamboo covers quite a large number of evergreen grasses in the family Poaceae and many of them contain cyanogenic glycosides named taxiphyllin capable of producing cyanide when ingested.

To date, ingestion was assumed to be the sole means of poisoning but a recent paper gives details of two deaths from eight people who suffered poisoning after cyanide gas was given off during the pickling of bamboo shoots in a confined space.


Full Entries


Tuesday 25th October 2016
Saturday 20th August 2016
Sunday 6th March 2016
Wednesday 3rd February 2016


Saturday 28th November 2015
Friday 27th November 2015
Monday 17th August 2015
Wednesday 15th July 2015
Friday 26th June 2015
Thursday 25th June 2015
Thursday 30th April 2015
Wednesday 29th April 2015
Wednesday 11th March 2015
Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Saturday 28th February 2015
Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014

Monday 24th November 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014
Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014
Saturday 16th August 2014
Tuesday 5th August 2014
Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014
Wednesday 23rd July 2014
Sunday 13th July 2014
Sunday 6th July 2014
Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Sunday 22nd June 2014
Monday 9th June 2014
Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014
Sunday 18th May 2014
Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014
Saturday 5th April 2014
Thursday 3rd April 2014
Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014
Tuesday 25th March 2014
Friday 21st March 2014
Monday 17th March 2014
Sunday 16th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Thursday 6th March 2014
Wednesday 5th March 2014
Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014
Monday 24th February 2014
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Monday 17th February 2014
Thursday 13th February 2014
Monday 4th February 2014
Monday 3rd February 2014
Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014
Thursday 23rd January 2014
Friday 17th January 2014
Wednesday 15th January 2014
Monday 13th January 2014
Thursday 9th January 2014
Tuesday 7th January 2014
Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013
Friday 20th December 2013
Tuesday 17th December 2013
Friday 14th December 2013
Thursday 12th December 2013
Sunday 8th December 2013
Wednesday 4th December 2013
Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013
Wednesday 27th November 2013
Tuesday 26th November 2013
Friday 22nd November 2013
Monday 18th November 2013
Friday 15th November 2013
Thursday 14th November 2013
Sunday 10th November 2013
Thursday 7th November 2013
Wednesday 6th November 2013
Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013
Sunday 27th October 2013
Wednesday 23rd October 2013
Monday 21st October 2013
Friday 18th October 2013
Friday 11th October 2013
Wednesday 9th October 2013
Tuesday 8th October 2013
Monday 7th October 2013
Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013
Saturday 28th September 2013
Friday 27th September 2013
Monday 23rd September 2013
Sunday 15th September 2013
Monday 9th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Sunday 8th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013
Sunday 25th August 2013
Monday 19th August 2013
Friday 16th August 2013
Tuesday 13th August 2013
Friday 9th August 2013
Friday 2nd August 2013
Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013
Sunday 21st July 2013
Wednesday 17th July 2013
Monday 15th July 2013
Saturday 13th July 2013
Friday 12th July 2013
Thursday 11th July 2013
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Tuesday 9th July 2013
Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013
Tuesday 25th June 2013
Friday 21st June 2013
Thursday 20th June 2013
Wednesday 19th June 2013
Saturday 15th June 2013
Sunday 9th June 2013
Saturday 8th June 2013
Saturday 1st June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012 blog

June 2012 blog

May 2012 blog

April 2012 blog

March 2012 blog

February 2012 blog

January 2012 blog

December 2011 blog

November 2011 blog

October 2011 blog

September 2011 blog

August 2011 blog

July 2011 blog

June 2011 blog


The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.