I try to rationalise the folklore about poisonous plants by understanding what purpose it is hoping to serve and how it came to be because it is too easy to just dismiss it as ignorant superstition.
Some, such as the Doctrine of Signatures, arises because the human race has always considered that it is the reason for the universe to exist and, therefore, everything else must have some connection with us. Some, such as the story about the devil appearing to anyone who picks the berries of Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade, is to try and reduce the harm caused by a poisonous plant.
Then, and this is a favourite, there is the use of incantations when preparing potions. What seems like the purest example of magic turns out to be a recipe instruction. Where Mary Berry would say ‘cook for 15-20 minutes’, in mediaeval times, ‘repeat this four times’ was a means of defining the time required for a process to complete.
But there is one piece of plant folklore that has eluded my every attempt to rationalise it. To find out what that is you’ll have to watch this ‘Poisonous Plants 1-2-1’ video about plants in the genus Helleborus.
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