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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

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Friday 31st August 2012

I sleep quite soundly. It wasn’t always like that. When I was regularly flying across continents, I did find it hard to go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning but, for the most part, that’s what happens to me these days. One consequence of this is that I’m not aware of any bad weather during the night and it is only the evidence of that weather, the following morning, that lets me know the fun nature had during the night.

I was thinking this on last Sunday morning as I drove out to the farm where the local cub scouts were having an overnight camp. The many small branches at various points along the road were signs that the strong breeze that had been around when I went to sleep on Saturday evening turned into something much stronger during the night...more

Monday 27th August 2012

I said in yesterday’s blog that there were plenty of lies and half-truths in Peter Hitchens’ advert for his own book published by the Mail on Sunday and a number of things have decided me to return to a consideration of some more of them, today.

First there was the response to that blog. You’ll never stop people like Hitchens from promulgating their prejudices but I think it is essential to expose them as such in the hope that it will arm more people with some reasoned response to replace the abuse he is hoping for...more

Sunday 26th August 2012

I think this may be a first. The Mail on Sunday today carried an extensive book review for a book that is not due to be published until 1st November. Now there’s nothing surprising about a Sunday paper having a book review. All the Sundays have lots; they’d be half as big if they didn’t. And they tend to let their reviewers go on at length often to the point that the review becomes about the merits of the reviewer rather than of the item reviewed.

What was unusual, possibly unique, about this particular review was that it was written by the author of the book being reviewed...more

Wednesday 22nd August 2012

I decided to set myself a long-term project. Just along the road from me there is a small clump of Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort. It stands all alone in the hedge and there are no other plants in sight.

If the sort of things you read on ‘horsey’ forums are correct then these two or three plants should produce between 300,000 and 450,000 seeds that will spread over a wide area with 70% of them germinating. I thought I’d see what happens...more

Monday 20th August 2012

Writing a substantial number of blog entries, especially about a limited subject range, is bound to result in repetitions from time to time. Richard Herring, whose excellent daily blog has run for over ten years, has absolutely no restriction on subject but recognises that there are times when he’s writing something very similar to one or more of his previous pieces.

It is no surprise, therefore, that I’ve written about Paracelsus before. You can’t write about the vagaries of what constitutes a poisonous plant without taking account of his pronouncements on the topic...more

Sunday 19th August 2012

Figures for drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2011 have been published1 and have produced, as would be expected, some fairly hysterical reporting with cherry-picking of information to mislead readers.

The Herald Scotland, stating that drug-related deaths in 2011 were, at 584, the highest annual level ever reported, made a point of noting that this was ‘20% more than the previous year's figure of 485’2. Now, that is true, but the implication that drug deaths are running out of control is not justified...more

Friday 17th August 2012

Almost one of the first things I wrote in this blog was about my lack of gardening ability and the fact that I had only, ever, had one day’s gardening-related tuition. The key point the tutor made on that day was that plants want to grow and it is up to the gardener to do nothing to stop them.

A few weeks ago someone wrote to say that she had a Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein, that had reached almost 7ft high and she wondered if this were a record. A few quick enquiries and I had to disappoint her by saying that several people had said they had grown plants higher than that...more

Sunday 12th August 2012

I’ve written before about the uses of hemp fibre from Cannabis sativa, marijuana, and the problems that arise because of the paranoia inherent in current drug policy. I’m returning to the topic because I watched a segment from an Al Jazeera programme about Hempcrete, a building material made by mixing hemp fibre with lime and water.

The programme was very upbeat and made no mention of the problems with growing cannabis for its fibre that I wrote about in that earlier piece...more

Saturday 11th August 2012

The jury system is one of the central features of western democracies. It is supposed to offer an independent judgement based on the facts of a case as presented in court. ‘As presented in court.’ A jury is charged with only considering what is put in front of it. It should not bring any prejudice into the court. It appears, however, that when it comes to psychoactive substances, there is an increasing number of cases where jurors, or potential jurors, see no reason to set aside their views of how the law should relate to these substances.

Now, it seems that at least one judge is also questioning the wisdom of bringing prosecutions..more

Friday 10th August 2012

Last week, I said that, as people seem more likely to believe anecdotes rather than evidence, the answer to people believing myths and misinformation might be to offer anecdotes based on the evidence rather than the evidence itself.

I thought I’d try this with Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, partly because I wanted to share some pictures I’m shamelessly proud of..more

Thursday 9th August 2012

I never thought I would write this: I want to go to Hartlepool.

For anyone reading this who is not familiar with that name, Hartlepool is a town on the north-east coast of England. It lies a few miles to the north of the mouth of the River Tees and its history has to do with shipping and heavy industry. Since the decline of most of its industrial base it has tried to redefine itself as a heritage based, tourist destination: mostly...more

Sunday 5th August 2012

When I decided to stop writing something every day, after a year of writing this blog, I thought that I might start making more use of Twitter by drawing attention to items of interest that didn’t merit a 1200 word consideration.

A story in The Herald, Scotland - ‘Revealed: Heroin causes more harm to Scotland than any other drug’ - seemed, at first glance, to fit that category but as I read into it I realised that it required more comment than 140 characters would allow. I also realised that I should go to the primary source to better understand what it was about...more

Saturday 4th August 2012

Sometimes you can determine how myths and misinformation begin. To take one example, the notion that the fruit of Atropa Belladonna, deadly nightshade, is ‘insanely sweet’ when, in fact, it has an insipid, slightly sweet taste can be traced directly to Mrs Grieve’s frequently flawed ‘A Modern Herbal’. Most of the time, however, it proves impossible to get back to the root of a story.

I can’t help thinking that a new myth is in creation so I thought I’d document its start so that, in the future, it will be easier to debunk...more

Thursday 2nd August 2012

‘Anecdote is not evidence’ is a phrase you’ll often hear from people like me who look for science to be the basis of belief and policy. It is used against anyone who wants to support a dodgy argument by telling an individual story and hoping they can sell that as the norm.

The counter brings in another well-known phrase that ‘there are exceptions to every rule’ meaning that you cannot take a single example, or even a handful of examples, and claim they describe a general situation...more

Wednesday 1st August 2012

Well, it is the 1st August and I’ve just completed the British Horse Society (BHS) Ragwort Awareness Week (RAW) survey. The survey introduction says ‘The BHS is therefore asking for reports of ragwort spotted during the week of 22 - 29 July’ so you could argue that it is OK to leave the survey open after the 29th July but if you are going to do that, it would be better to stress that you are only looking for reports within the specified dates.

But, I haven’t decided to write yet another piece about Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, just to, again, point out a flaw with the BHS survey. My motivation, today, is more to do with a clear example of the real problems caused by the plant...more


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