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.

Thursday 10th November 2011

My talk yesterday evening was to a garden group from a small nearby village. I nearly wrote a small village garden group but I thought you might conclude the group was small rather than the village. In fact, considering how small the village is the garden group is thriving and there were quite a few more people there tonight that when I spoke to them at this time last year.

Sometimes, the smaller audiences are better because everybody knows everybody and that seems to make them less shy about sharing their own experiences. I thought I’d write about some of the stories I picked up.

I’ve actually spoken to this group twice before so they’ve heard ‘Lethal Lovelies’ and ‘Medical Murderers’ and though I wouldn’t expect them to remember every story I thought I’d turn to the more local ‘Poisonous Plants in Berwickshire’ and try and bring in as many of the stories I’ve heard in the past twelve months as possible.

Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed

Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed

One of those was more dramatic than I intended because my finger slipped on the remote control for the projector and an image appeared that I normally warn people about before I show it. I’d been talking about Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed, and moved onto the infrequent occurrences of skin burns resulting from contact with Pastinaca sativa, parsnip.

On the plant page for the parsnip I have some photos sent to me by a woman who made the mistake of handling parsnip tops in very bright sunlight. I’ve reproduced one of them further down this page. This was the picture I clicked onto before giving my customary warning about an unpleasant image and, given the reaction of the audience, I think I may not issue any warnings in future.

It prompted one woman to say that she’d had a similar experience, in 2009 she thought, when she removed some parsnips that had run to seed in their second year after not being harvested. Though she was wearing a long-sleeved top, she didn’t wear gloves and the next morning the backs of her hands were beginning to burn. Later that day, large blisters began to appear and, because she was visiting her mother, she could not get to a doctor until later in the afternoon. (It sounds as though she should have gone to A & E but I think she didn’t want to make a fuss.)

Interestingly, she has not had any repetition of the burning, which is generally seen with giant hogweed. It is not possible to know if Pastinaca sativa doesn’t give this repetitive burning or whether it’s just that the two summers since have been poor in the extreme.

I spoke about Jacobaea vulgaris, common ragwort, and I think someone was preparing to claim it was a killer of many, many horses so I was pleased I’d decided to talk about the FOI request I made that contradicted Prof Knottenbelt’s claims. See the blog entry for 11th October. Also, another audience member said that she kept horses and knew that they didn’t like living ragwort. She said that she’d seen plenty of horses in pasture with ragwort in it but never seen them eating it or seen any indication that plants had been grazed.

Before the talk started, the organiser told me that a different village group had recently had a talk from a woman who spent a year living as close as possible to an 18th century lifestyle. She’d grown only vegetables known at the time and supplemented her diet with foraging. So, with that in mind I told them the story of Will (14th October) and his encounter with Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort, not to deter anyone from foraging but just to make them aware of the need to be sure of what you’re picking.

Burns from Pastinaca sativa, parsnip

Burns from Pastinaca sativa, parsnip

When I was talking about Ricinus communis, castor oil plant, someone made the not uncommon comment about the attack on the Tokyo subway and I explained that, somehow, parts of the media had confused ricin with sarin, a nerve gas, and erroneous reports still appear wrongly blaming ricin. (Another example of how useful it might be to rewrite history?) After the talk a man told me he had been working in Tokyo at the time and had been assigned a Japanese assistant for translation and secretarial work. Because they'd had a very busy time, he told her to take the following morning off and, as a result, she was not on the train that was attacked. Small unimportant choices can have very long-lasting effects.

I finished by showing some footage of a Cannabis sativa plant growing in a front garden in another local village and was told by someone that, when she lived in California, she had a plant growing in her garden until a friend saw it and told her what it was. She asked her friend how she knew about it to which the reply was ‘I have three teenage sons’.

It was Wednesday afternoon when I heard from my publisher that the Kindle version of ‘Is that Cat Dead? – and other questions about poison plants’ was now available and I’d already transferred my presentation to the laptop but I decided to change the slide that shows the book cover and I’m glad I did because a couple of people asked about that format.


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.