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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

April 2013

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Monday 29th April 2013

Chapter 6 of my book ‘Is That Cat Dead?’ is called ‘Have You Got Something Undetectable?’ the question that summarises all the questions people have about the use of poisonous plants as murder weapons. There are other ways to phrase what is really the same question and I end the chapter by saying;

Had the question been put as ‘What would you suggest as a good murder weapon?’ my answer would have been ‘None of the plants’.

It is this notion that there are better ways of killing people than using plant poisons that I want to explore, today, in the light of four recent stories...more

Saturday 27th April 2013

I was wrong and I thought I should take almost the first opportunity to say ‘I was wrong’. I say ‘almost’ because I’ve waited a couple of days to see what developed and my waiting has been rewarded.

A week ago, I wrote about the developments in the ‘ricin letters’ affair in the USA and said the arrest of a suspect ‘suggests that this particular storm in a teacup will quickly abate’. Since then, however, the story has taken a surprising twist and become of much more interest to the media...more

Monday 22nd April 2013

When I worked in Zambia, in the 1970s, head office sent over a young high-flyer MBA to conduct a strategic review of the Zambian subsidiary. His conclusion was that the company should be sold and the money returned to the UK. He made this pronouncement as if no-one had ever thought of it before and completely ignored that foreign exchange rules in Zambia would have prevented the repatriation of the sale proceeds.

I mention this because it illustrates how someone of apparent intelligence can let that appearance slip by claiming to have an original idea that isn’t and making statements that reveal how little they know about their subject. So, today I want to write about Hassan Tahsin...more

Friday 19th April 2013

Until this week I’d never tasted Rhododendron.

I started tasting poisonous plants after reading divergent opinions about the taste of Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade. In ‘A Modern Herbal’, Mrs Grieve says the berries are insanely sweet but Frohne and Pfander, in ‘A Colour Atlas of Poisonous Plants’, say they are ‘sweetish but insipid’. There was only one way to resolve this dispute and I found, not for the first time, that Mrs Grieve got it wrong...more

Thursday 18th April 2013

The motto of the New York Times, "All the News That's Fit to Print", isn’t true. It certainly wasn’t true when first coined and even today, with the infinite capacity of online publishing it is still not true. No news organisation publishes all the news; that would simply be impossible. Instead editors make judgements about what news is of the most significance, today, and publish that. Stories that would never appear in November get extensive coverage on a quiet day in August and important stories get scant or no coverage if a significant event has taken place.

It is against this background that I’ve been looking at the coverage of the ‘white powder in letters’ story and the way it has developed since I wrote, briefly, about it yesterday..more

Wednesday 17th April 2013

Quite a short piece today because the only way to make it longer would be to engage in the sort of speculation it is written to criticise.

Reports from the USA say that mail addressed to Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, was intercepted at a mail screening facility after testing positive for ricin, the toxin found in the seeds of Ricinus communis, castor bean plant...more

Thursday 11th April 2013

'Here's rosemary, that's for remembrance. So remember.'
Hamlet Act IV Scene 5

That quote appears on the A to Z page for Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary, along with a summary of some research suggesting that the smell of rosemary could actually enhance memory.

Knowing that I was surprised to read a Mail Online piece saying;

‘Researchers have found for the first time that essential oil from the herb when sniffed in advance enables people to remember to do things.’...more

Tuesday 9th April 2013

Last week, my Google alert for Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, took me to the newsletter of a website dealing with anything related to caring for horses. It is not clear who is behind this site. It describes itself as ‘Free Information, Help & Advise [sic] For Equestrians’ and it clearly is not linked to any magazine. The URL ‘housecarecourses’ suggests it may have something to do with someone offering training but there is nothing on the site to confirm that.

The newsletter was about preparing pasture for the summer grazing season and included a link to a page, on the same site, about ragwort. I’ll come back to the newsletter later but I wanted to start with the ‘All About Ragwort’ page because it is the first time I’ve come across a ‘horsey’ website trying to deal fairly with this subject...more

Saturday 6th April 2013

There’s an expression that is not as well-known as you might expect it to be. I say that because you would think that everyone would be aware that ‘If something seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is’. The number of telephone calls I receive from a variety of conmen and shysters seeking to part me from my money, however, implies that there are enough people unaware of this principle to enable these ‘charlatans and mountebacks’ to operate profitably.

I also believe something which is possibly the complement of that expression rather that its opposite. That is ‘If something looks too bad to be true, it most probably isn’t’. I’m not sure when I first realised this but I remember that it became central to how I read news when some charity announced that a majority of adults reported that they had suffered abuse as children. I can’t recall, or find, the actual percentage but it was well above 50% and immediately made me incredulous. Sure enough, a little digging determined that ‘abuse’ had been defined to include verbal chastisement as well of all other forms of sanction applied to misbehaviour...more

Wednesday 3rd April 2013

Since I started this website, five years ago, I’ve wrestled with a style problem that may, I fear, lead to misunderstanding. Much of the plant information in the A to Z section of this site is concerned with the folklore attached to a plant or the ancient belief in its medicinal properties.

The style issue arises because I decided that, in general, including caveats with every piece of folklore would quickly become tedious for the reader. Thus, on the page for Buxus sempervirens, box, it says ‘Witches use knowledge as power and, hence, can tell you the numbers of every branch, every twig and every leaf of every plant’ without explaining that there is no such thing as a witch..more

Monday 1st April 2013

Folklore, all folklore not just that concerned with plants, has regional or national variations. Just yesterday, I mentioned the common name, ‘our saviour’s flannel’, is usually given to  Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss, but, in Kent, it is Verbascum, mullein, that gets this name and the folklore associated with it.

So, today, for me is April Fools Day but for others it is All Fools Day. In the folklore I was brought up with, the playing of tricks on people is supposed to end at noon though there are plenty of people who believe it should last all day. They may be right, because you might think it would be called April Fools Morning if it was intended to finish at midday...more


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