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.

Current Entries


Previous Entries

November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011

Thursday 31st May 2012

I wrote, yesterday, that ‘when it comes to the psychoactive substances, that there is a huge amount of new material being generated’ but I didn’t know at the time how true that would prove.

Today, a total of 848 pages of information were published in just three documents that have come to my attention. Luckily, one of them is a paperback book so I can defer trying to digest that until Amazon delivers but that only buys me a day or two...more

Wednesday 30th May 2012

As the first anniversary of starting this blog moves closer, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned by writing it.

I’ll save a full review of what it has been all about for the actual anniversary because there were a number of reasons for doing it but the one about learning is worth looking at on its own...more

Tuesday 29th May 2012

I haven’t, yet, paid for a year’s subscription to the British Newspapers Archive although it is nearly three weeks since I said I would. It is very likely that I will subscribe soon because, after looking at some of the material I downloaded during my short-term trial, I’ve been left with a question.

I only found three items related to Dr. Robert Buchanan and that is interesting in itself. Two of them are largely similar, probably, meaning they were re-workings of the same agency report. All three are from July 1895 and report on Buchanan’s execution...more

Monday 28th May 2012

Today, for a change, a numbers puzzle. Can you work out the significance of the numbers in the following piece?

Since I started this blog, nearly a year ago, I have often written about ricin (1) the toxic (2) component found in the seeds of Ricinus communis, castor oil plant. I’ve said that it usually gets mentioned in connection with an allegedly planned Al Qaeda (3) inspired terror (4) attack (5)...more

Sunday 27th May 2012

At this time of year I start to see the same plant appearing regularly for my Google Alerts including the word poison. The reason I mention this is because it is not a poisonous plant.

Rhus radicans, also known as Rhus toxicodendron or Toxicodendron radicans, is usually referred to by its common name, poison ivy. Contact with the plant transfer an oil called urishiol to the skin and, in the majority of cases, results in the symptoms of dermatitis; itching, blistering and pigmentation change. Repeated exposure can produce sensitization so that the effects become much worse..more

Saturday 26th May 2012

You wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you knew how infrequently they did.

I don’t know who first had that thought. It seems that, worded differently, it is attributed to Olin Miller but no-one seems to know who Olin Miller was nor be able to cite any written works other than a few other ‘wise old sayings’ that get attributed to him.

It came to mind, yesterday, when someone told me they had heard that I was ‘vehemently opposed’ to alcohol. I know the person who said this and I can’t recall he and I ever having a discussion specifically about alcohol so I don’t know if someone else has told him and he has believed them or if something I said in a general conversation has given that impression...more

Friday 25th May 2012

I received such a strongly positive reaction to yesterday’s contribution to Sciencegeist’s ToxicCarnival that I thought I’d have a look for another chemical from plants with an interesting story.

In the interests of full disclosure I’d better say that what follows is very largely based on a page that I wrote for this website soon after I first set it up in 2008. But, the ways in which what should be definitive science have been manipulated to suit interest groups seemed to me to be a good example of what started the ToxicCarnival...more

Thursday 24th May 2012

There’s been quite a lot about chemicals on the Internet, recently. I don’t know where or when it started but I know when it came to my attention. That was when Deborah Blum wrote a piece about New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and a column he wrote, the latest in a line of writings about how chemicals are bad.

That led me to an interview with the CEO of Dow Chemical in which he says that the company is trying to stress the ‘Dow’ even though ‘Chemical’ is still in the name because of the negative images conjured up these days by the word ‘chemical’. At one point in the interview, he says ‘95 percent of all products out there have chemistry in them’. This led to a number of science bloggers speculating about what that other 5% could be made of...more

Wednesday 23rd May 2012

For a brief period, this morning, I thought I’d found a website dealing sensibly with Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, and its effect on horses. Sadly, it didn’t last.

It concerned an incident where a number of horses in the same stable became very ill after being fed hay contaminated with ragwort and, unlike nearly every other ‘horsey’ website, it pointed out that horses will not graze on living ragwort unless they are actually starving and that the problem comes when ragwort is cropped along with grass for hay...more

Tuesday 22nd May 2012

I spoke too soon. When I said Wednesday that my talks ‘season’ had ended I reckoned without getting a fairly short notice request to talk to a Rotary Club later this week.

It is an after dinner event with the request being for twenty minutes with no visual aids and I’m still trying to decide what to pick out for inclusion. The real skill, that I’m not sure I possess, is to say just enough to whet appetites so that there are plenty of questions at the end..more

Monday 21st May 2012

Two reports, one from each end of the story of heroin, raised further concerns about the falling quality of newspapers in the UK. I thought I’d detected a common problem with the two but that turned out not to be the case.

The Guardian website also carries content from The Observer, the paper owned by the owners of the Guardian but, at the moment, produced by a separate editorial staff. When the two reports appeared, yesterday, my first assumption was that they both came from the Observer and their failings could not be laid at the door of the Guardian...more

Sunday 20th May 2012

Although, yesterday, you wouldn’t have believed it possible today saw the start of ‘open garden’ season, the time of year when people allow the public to look round their gardens as a means of raising funds for a local or national cause.

Luckily, however, today turned out to one of those times when the north/south divide works in reverse. Listening to the cricket commentators from Lords in London complaining about how cold and gloomy it was it didn’t seem possible that we were having our best day, so far, this year...more

Saturday 19th May 2012

Saturday 12th May 2012 A week ago, I wrote (OK, ranted if you prefer) about a bizarre email I received from someone who used the contact form to get in touch. In late April, I received what might also be described as a bizarre enquiry but this time it was bizarre in a very good way.

I’ve waited until now to write about it because I wanted to have the full story to tell...more

Friday 18th May 2012

Two different stories illustrating problems with press reporting caught my attention, today. I’ve said before that there is little point in trying to point out every error on the Internet but these two struck me as particular examples of newspapers happily passing on incorrect information and perpetuating myths as a result.

On Monday, I speculated that the CIA created ‘underpants bomb plot’ would find its way into the library of alleged terror plots trotted out to fill out any new story about alleged terrorists...more

Thursday 17th May 2012

Another trip to Edinburgh, yesterday, just twelve days since the previous one, offered the chance to see just how quickly Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed, grows and to see if there was any indication of control measures being taken.

I thought I'd try and take some pictures from the same spots as last time so as to be able to get a clear comparison of the plants...more

Wednesday 16th May 2012

The Scottish government has announced its intended minimum alcohol price and has set the level at 50p per unit. When I wrote about Scotland’s plans for a minimum price Wednesday 2nd November I used 50p per unit to illustrate a point but for some time it was thought that the move would be to a 45p minimum.

The UK government, now considering minimum pricing as one arm of a new alcohol strategy is thought to be looking at 40p so the 50p move in Scotland is somewhat more extreme than expected...more

Tuesday 15th May 2012

There are times when I wish I could have been a journalist, or, at least, been able to think and behave like a journalist. It must be very liberating to not have to behave consistently from one day to the next but, instead, to be able to take your overall prejudices and apply them to contradictory situations.

This blog is going to be about the Daily Mail, undoubtedly the worst example of this ability to ignore logic, but I’ll begin by explaining what I mean with an example from Private Eye, not a publication many would think of as committing the same sins as the mainstream media...more

Monday 14th May 2012

Usually when I write about ricin, the highly toxic lectin found in Ricinus communis, castor oil plant, it is to do with yet another reference to it as a bioterrorism weapon. I point out that there is no practical route for causing large scale fatalities using ricin and, even as a one on one weapon, it has a low success rate.

But, of course, a low fatality rate is not the same as a zero fatality rate and a newly reported case from Saudi Arabia illustrates that ricin can kill...more

Sunday 13th May 2012

I said, on Friday, that I would have a look at the most recent appearances of Laburnum in the British Newspapers Archive to see if I could detect a change in the reporting of any poisoning incidents from the early 19th century.

Immediately, I came across a problem that I’ve had in other circumstances but, it seems to me, to adopt the cliché, that this problem was really an opportunity to look at attitudes to this tree..more

Saturday 12th May 2012

Usually, when I receive an email from someone who has completed the contact form on the website, I try and reply immediately. That is very easy to do if the correspondent has just been kind enough to say they’ve enjoyed visiting the site or if their question is straightforward.

Occasionally, I may need to take a bit of time thinking about how to word my reply so as not to give offence. For example, if someone emails to say that their daughter insists on having poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, in the house at Christmas in spite of being told that, if the grandchildren eat just one leaf, they will die and can I please suggest how to get her daughter to appreciate the danger, I try to reply truthfully without suggesting that the emailer is really stupid to believe complete rubbish...more

Friday 11th May 2012

I thought I should put thoughts of murder to one side, today, and see instead if one of my other suspicions could be proved or otherwise from the British newspapers archive.
I’ve written before, last October and in March, about my belief that a lot of the reputation Laburnum has for being a very dangerous plant to have around children was the result of over-hysterical reporting so I decided to see what the archives had to say on the matter even though they only go up to 1950, so far, and the problem seems to have been worst in the 1970s...more

Thursday 10th May 2012

Time for a brief update on my gardening progress for this year. This far north, it is not a good idea to put annuals out until the beginning of June, though I take that to mean when the ten day forecast reaches 1st June and there is no chance of any frost at the end of May.

That means this is the time of year when the seedlings are starting to get to a fair size and the number of pots spread around the sunroom explodes...more

Wednesday 9th May 2012

Although it is only the second day and I still have about two–thirds of my credits to spend, I’m already very close to deciding that £80 for a year’s unlimited access to the British newspapers archive will be money well spent.

Because this was only a trial subscription, I thought I should research a number of different stories rather than just spending all my time on Dr. Crippen, interesting though many of the stories I’ve found, so far, are...more

Tuesday 8th May 2012

My interest in poisonous and psychoactive plants falls into four, usually, discrete areas. There’s the growing of the plants and the possibilities of accidental poisoning that arise. The psychoactive substances and the policies and politics applied to the control or otherwise of their use. The use of plant derived poisons as murder weapons and the stories of the murderers who used them. And, the use of potentially harmful substances in smaller amounts where they may (or may not) be beneficial.

Today, purely by chance, those last two came together in an interesting side story to what we know about the infamous murderer, Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen...more

Monday 7th May 2012

What killed Lenin? That question was posed at a recent halfday conference at the University of Maryland  School of Medicine. Harry Vinters, MD, professor of neurology and neuropathology and chief of the division of neuropathology in the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles examined the medical evidence for various possible causes of death with a noted expert in Russian history, Lev Lurie, checking the various theories against the historical record.

Apparently, the Historical Clinicopathological Conference is an annual event. I assume it is meant to be quite light-hearted but with the serious point of showing the importance of looking very carefully at all available information, including that which is not directly medical, when forming a diagnosis. As well, of course, as indicating how far medicine has advanced since the historical event chosen each year..more

Sunday 6th May 2012

I’m returning to a story I wrote about just five days ago 1st may because there has been a development. Unlike the original story, this development has not been widely reported.

Previously, I stressed that I wanted to avoid speculation but I’ve realised that this was a mistake because I cannot now say ‘I told you so’. If I claim that the latest news on the case of the seven people arrested under anti-terrorism legislation in connection with the supply of Catha edulis, khat, to the USA is exactly what I expected to happen, you’d have every right to scoff. If only I’d speculated, last time, I could crow about my insight....more

Saturday 5th May 2012

There’s an interesting discussion about peer group substance use in the latest edition of ‘Addiction’. It set me thinking about what little we really know in spite of all the time spent on research.

The notion is that the perception of peer group substance use can influence an individual’s own decision on whether and how much to use. It has been suggested, recently, that people tend to over-estimate the substance use of those around them and might, therefore, be more prone to use themselves...more

Friday 4th May 2012

A shopping trip to Edinburgh revealed that the Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed, seems to be doing particularly well, this year.

Giant hogweed has been a frequent subject of this blog but I thought it might be worth giving some pictures that might help with identification since it may well be that you will come across on or adjacent to where you are walking..more

Thursday 3rd May 2012

After what seems like weeks of hiding away from the wind, rain and cold, I ventured out into the garden and found the Polygonatum, Solomon’s seal, in bud.

I didn’t plant these perennials so I can’t be sure of the species but it is likely to be either multiflorum, common Solomon’s seal, or odoratum, angular Solomon’s seal. They come up at the very edge of the garden almost under the concrete of the next door neighbour’s path and that may explain why they don’t ever seem to do very well...more

Wednesday 2nd May 2012

There are a great many organisations with an interest in psychoactive substance use and they produce a great many reports either as one-offs or annually. I’m sure there are people who can read and digest every word of every one of these reports but I’m not one of them.

This means that I try and get the sense of one-off reports to determine which is worth reading in full and, with annual reports, I’ve found that some really don’t reward a full reading but are worth keeping for reference...more

Tuesday 1st May 2012

This should be a very short entry today.

One of my pet hates is the way the mainstream media speculate based on zero information and create completely the wrong impression about a story. If I’m going to avoid doing that myself I’ll need to keep this quite short...more


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.