Circumstances at home mean I haven’t been able to get out giving talks very much this winter but I’ve got a morning one coming up this Thursday in Kelso. It’s the Probus Club suggesting there should be a good number of people.
Before every talk, I go back through all the material and make changes. It is impossible to tell every story in the normal sort of time slot and I’m always finding new things to say meaning I have to find things to leave out.
During the review ahead of Thursday’s event, I gave consideration to whether I had Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane, in the right section and whether I could cut back on what I say about it. The talk is called 'Lethal Lovelies' and, as the picture shows, the flowers of the black henbane are certainly lovely.
Because I can’t talk about every plant, I try and choose plants where the stories say something in general about how we interact with poisonous and psychoactive plants. That means choosing a plant where its taste is the deterrent, for example, to make the point that there are very few poisonings in spite of toxic plants being all around because there is no incentive to eat them.
Hyoscyamus niger actually provides five general points.
• It is psychoactive as well as toxic so it brings up the issue
of ignoring potential harm in the search for intoxication.
• It was used in Egypt as an alternative to Cannabis sativa, marijuana, when action was taken to suppress the use of the latter and, hence, provides a good reference to the issue of harm reduction and the balloon effect.
• Its appearance resulted, under the Doctrine of Signatures, in its use to treat toothache and opened an opportunity for charlatans to exploit people’s gullibility something that still happens today with homeopathy and other crank ‘alternative therapies’.
• It provided the toxin in one of the most famous poisoning cases in history – the death of Dr. Crippen’s wife - giving the chance to talk about poisons as murder weapons.
• When Antony Worrall Thompson recommended its use in salads, he demonstrated the problems that can arise with the common names of plants.
Taking account of all these, I realised I could not leave the black henbane out of the talk but should try and tell its story as succinctly as possible. Making a ‘Poisonous Plants 1-2-1’ video about it seemed like the ideal way to rehearse.
So, here’s that video.
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