Tag Archives: herbal lore

The Blarney Poison Garden


The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

The Poison Garden:
Blarney Castle, Ireland * 021-4385252 * vwww.blarneycastle.ie *

One of the most intriguing features of the castle grounds of Blarney Castle for a botanist, scientist, or herbalist is the castle’s “Poison Garden”. A collection of plants embracing the world’s most deadliest toxins, one can walk amongst danger and see, smell, and view from close proximity what plants take the lives of hundreds of thousands of human lives annually. The garden has been active since the 18th century and a popular tourist attraction along with the other gardens on the grounds as the estate extends to over 1,000 acres of gardens (the poison garden is just a small tiny yard). The garden is located hidden behind the Castle’s battlements. Some of the more toxic or illegal of substances are located within large black conical iron cages to protect them from the tourist and the viewer from their toxicity. Some of the garden’s plants are controlled substances and therefore heavily monitored. During my 2010 and 2012 visits, many of the caged plants were empty, including the cannabis specimen. This specimen was Taken by the local gardai in 2010. Upon a visit in 2013, the Cannabis plant is not only present but enormous.

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Cannabis plant, Blarney Castle’s Poison Garden, Ireland

Of the ones I photographed and wrote about below, are:

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Oleander



Oleander
The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland


Oleander
Nerium oleander [ Plantae: Angiosperms: Eudicots: Asterids: Gentianales: Apocynaceae: Apocynoideae: Wrightieae: Nerium: Nerium oleander ]

Common Names: Oleander

Localities:
Commom from Morocco to Portugal eastward into the Mediterranean and throughout southern Asia to Yunnan and southern China.

Species:

Description:
The Oleander tree is a poisonous evergreen shrub or small tree that grows upwards of 2-6 meters tall with spreading or erect branches sprouting thick and leathery dark green narrow lanceolate leaves in pairs or whorls of three, upwards of 5-21 cm long, 1-4 cm broad with a margin; blossoming white / pink / red/ or yellow 2.5-5 cm diameter flowers in clusters at the end of each branch with deep 5 lobed corollas with a fringe round the central corolla tube. These produce long narrow capsulated fruits 5-23 cm long that open at maturity to release numerouse downy seeds.

Cultivation:
Grows typically around dry stream beds. Best in warm subtropical regions. It is drought tolerant and tolerate occasional light frost. It is deer resistant and tolerant of poor soils and drought. It is very easy to grow as it is adaptable and requires little maintenance able to survive without water for weeks.

Common Uses:
Gardening ornamental, oddly very common in school yards though very toxic to children.

Culinary Uses:
If ingested in sufficient quantity is very toxic.

Medicinal Uses:
Oleander is one of the most poisonous plants in the world with numerous toxic compounds. The most potent toxins in oleander are oleandrin and neriine which are cardiac glycosides which are present in all parts of the plant, concentrated in the sap. The bark contains rosagenin known for its strychnine-like effects. Upwards of 10-20 leaves consumed by an adult can create adverse reactions and a single leaf lethal to a child. In Southern India, mashing and ingesting oleander seeds are a common method for suicide. Ingestion creates gastrointestinal and cardiac effects, with nauseau, vomiting, excess salivation, abdominal pain, diarrhea with or withou blood, and colic. Poisoning requires immediate treatment, with charcoal being common to absorb toxins and digoxin immune fab as the best antidote. It is very toxic to livestock with as little as 100 g of leaves able to kill a adult horse. There are internet rumors that Oleander is a potential treatment for skin cancer and for anti-viral treatments. It has been endorsed in the supplement “OPC Extract” for its use in treating HIV.

Magical Uses:

Folklore and History: Its name was derived from the old latin name for flower used first in the ancient city of Volubilis in Morocco. Pliny the Elder wrote in 77 CE that despite its toxicity was a effective snakebite cure if taken in wine with rue. Historically used in Mesopotamia 15th c. BCE for healing; Babylonians mixed oleander with licorice to treat hangovers, and Arab physicians used it as a cancer treatment as early as 8th century CE. The Bible refers to Oleander as “the Desert Rose”.

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Poison Ivy



Poison Ivy/Oak
The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland


Poison Ivy
Toxicodendron radicans [ Plantae: Angiosperms: Eudicots: Rosids: Sapindales: Anacardiaceae: Toxicodendron: Toxicodendron radicans ]

Common Names:

Localities:
Poison Ivy grows throughout North America, in the United States and through Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba of Canada as well as the mountainous regions of Mexico.

Species:
Its similar species, poison oak – Toxicodendron rydbergii is found in the western United States.

Description:
Poison Ivy is a dioecious poisonous North American plant growing either as a trailing vine (upwards of 10-25 cm), a shrub (upwards of 1.2 meters), or as a climbing vine growing on trees. It is an understory plant in the forest. This vine has reddish hairs that are like leaves, that branch off light to dark green leaves that turn bright red in the fall. Leaflets of mature leaves are shiny ranging from 3-12 cm long, but rarely upwards of 30 cm in length, each leaflet has few to no teeth along its edges and hosting a smooth surface, clustering alternate on the vine that produces numerous aerial rootlets as well as adventitious roots that can spread from rhizomes or root crowns. It blossoms inconspicuous yellowish or greenish white flowers bundled in clusters up to 8 cm above the leaves from May to July. Flowers fruit into berry-like drupes that mature from August to November with a greyish white color feeding many birds and animals that disperse the seeds in their droppings.

Cultivation:
Is found in wooded areas along plant edge areas, in exposed rocky areas, open fields, and disturbed areas. It is shade tolerant. It is not sensitive to soil moisture but does not grow in deserts or arid conditions. It can habitate a wide variety of soil types, as well as areas subject to seasonal flooding, or brackish water.

Common Uses:

Culinary Uses:

Medicinal Uses:
Poison Ivy produces urushiol, a clear liquid in the sap that causes an itching rash to those who encounter it. It creates a reaction that is urushiol-induced to cause dermatitis that 70-85% of the human population allergically reacts to that can progres to anaphylaxis. Poison Ivy attacks upwards of 350,000 people a year. If the plant is burned and the smoke inhaled, it will cause a rash on the lungs causing pain and possible fatal respiratory issues; If eaten it will damage the mouth and digestive tract. The rash can lasts 1-4 weeks depending on severity and treatment. Its oil can stay active for several years, so handling dead leaves and vines, exposed gloves or clothes, can cause a reaction.

Magical Uses:

Folklore and History: “Leaves of three, let it be”; “Raggy rope, don’t be a dope”; “One, two, three? don’t touch me!”; “Berries white, run in fright”; “Berries white danger in sight”; “LOnger middle stem, stay away from them”; “Red leaflets in the spring, it’s a dangerous thing”; “Side leaflets like mitens, will itch like the dickens”; “If butterflies land there, don’t put your hand there”; and “If it’s got hair, it won’t be fair”; are folk rhymes to teach children to avoid the plant.


Poison Ivy/Oak
The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

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Camellia: Green Tea



Camellia sinensis Tea
The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland


Camellia: Green Tea
Camellia sinensis [ Plantae: Angiosperms: Eudicots: Asterids: Ericales: Theaceae: Camellia: Camellia sinensis ]

Common Names: Green Tea, White Tea, Oolong, Pu-erh, black tea, tea plant, tea tree, tea shrub

Localities:
It is native to mainland China South and Southeast Asia, but is cultivated across the world in tropical and subtropical regions.

Species:

Description:
The infamous Chinese “Green Tea” plant, it is a flowering evergreen shrub/ small tree/ plant that can grow upwards of 6 feet from a strong taproot. It blossoms into yellow-white 2.5-4 cm diameter and 7-8 petal flowers.

Cultivation:
It is commonly cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates that have at least 127 cm annual rainfall. The plant will grow into a tree naturally. It typically blossoms in the fall. It needs full sun to partial shade and well drained, neutral to slightly acidic soil rich in organic mater.

Common Uses:

Culinary Uses:
Most commonly used for Chinese Tea, especially White Tea, Green Tea, Oolong, Pu-erh tea, and black tea differing on its oxidation. Its seeds are pressed into tea oil that is used for seasoning and cooking oil. It is a natural caffeine source and is used as a tea to gain energy.

Medicinal Uses:
The leaves are used in Chinese medicine to treat asthma (as a brochodilator), angina pectoris, peripheral vascular disease, coronary artery disease, and other illnesses. It is good for treating bad breath. The tea is used to increase alertness (contains caffeine), cancer prevention, lowering cholesterol, and preventing Parkinson’s disease. Over-use has had various side effecs including nauseau, diarrhea, upset stomach, headaches, and dizziness.

Magical Uses:
Traditionally used in ceremonies to increase awareness during long meditations.

Folklore and History: The plant is named after the Latin term “Sinensis” which means “Chinese”. “Camellia” is named after the Rev. George Kamel who was a 1661-1706 Czech-born Jesuit priest who was a popular botanist and missionary to the Phillipines.

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Columbine



Columbine

The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

Columbine: Aquilegia

Aquilegia canadensis [ Plantae: Magnoliophyta: Magnoliopsida: Eudicots: Ranunculales: Aquilegia: Aquilegia canadensis ]

Common Names:

Localities:
Northern Hemisphere. It is native to the Alps. Common throughout Eastern North America as well as Utah, California, and Alaska.

Species:
There are about 60-70 species of Columbine.

Description:
Columbines are an perennial airy plant with attractive foliage that will come in diverse colors that some describe to look like jester’s caps and some of the plants are bi-colored ranging from reds, yellows, whites, blues, pinks, and purple blossoms. The plant in its infancy is clover-like but grows upwards of 2 feet in height during full bloom which occurs in late spring to early summer. It produces a follicle fruit.

Cultivation:
Columbine is a self-seeding plant so requires little for spreading it. It likes partial shade in meadows, woodlands, and footpaths with well-drained soils. It often is found on rocky ledges in the wild. The plants are drought tolerant. It is propogated by its seed.

Common Uses:

Culinary Uses:
Native Americans used Colombine leaves as a condiment with other fresh greens which adds sweetness to the dish and is safe in small quantities.

Medicinal Uses:
Columbines produce cardiogenic toxins. While the leaves are safe in small quantities, the seeds and roots are highly poisonous which cause severe gastroenteritis and heart palpiations. Native Americans utilized small amounts of the root to treat ulcers. However due to its toxicity, its highly recommended to avoid use internally. Early doctors powdered dried columbine flowers to make an antitoxin drink. Native Americans used small amounts of crushed seeds to cure headaches and improve a person’s love life.

Magical Uses:
It is symbollic of Venus, the Goddess of Love. Native Americans made a paste from crushed seeds or dried flowers to make a love potion.

Folklore and History:
The name comes from the Latin “Columba” which refers to doves as some believe there is a resemblance in the inverted columbine flower to five doves nested together. “Aquilegia” comes from the Latin word “aquila” for “eagle” because the shape of he flower petals resemble an eagle’s claw.

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Wolfsbane: Aconitum vulparia

Official article now located at: http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/treelore/?p=1333


Wolfsbane
The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

Wolfsbane
Aconitum vulparia [ Plantae: Angiospermae; Eudicots; Ranunculales; Aconiteae; Family: Ranunculaceae: Genus: Aconitum: Aconitum vulparia ]

Common Names:
Wolfsbane, Badger’s Bane, aconite, monkshood, wolfsbane, leopard’s bane, women’s bane, Devil’s helmet or blue rocket.

Localities:
Alps, Europe.

Description:
This herbaceous perennial grows naturally in damp woods, in the Northern hemispheres, especially in the Alps where it is an endangered species. It likes moist retentive well drained soil atop mountain meadows with snow melt. It is a plant that produces dark green leaves that lack stipules, are palmate lobed with 5-7 segments each with 3 lobed coarse sharp teeth, spiral or alternate leaf arrangement, with lower leaves having long petioles, growing tall erect stemmed crowned by racemes of large sulphur-yellow flowers from June to August with numerous stamens. The higher the elevation, the more flowers produced, and longer they last. The flowers are well know for having one of 5 petaloid sepals called the galea in the form of a cylindrical helmet that gives itself the English name monkshood. These are 2-10 petals in forms of nectaries, with two upper large petals, located under the hood of the calyx and supported on long stalks, with a hollow spur at the apex containing nectar, and other petals being small or non-forming with 3-5 carpels partially fused at the base. The plant produces a dry unilocular follicle fruit that has many seeds formed from one carpel and dehiscing by the ventral suture to release the seeds when ready to reproduce.

Species:
There are over 250 species.

Cultivation:
Wolfsbane is easily propagated by divisions of the root or by seeds. The plant can be sown from seeds, although this method is challenging and is recommended to be germinated in a wet paper towel wrapped up in a unsealed plastic baggie for 4 weeks at regular room temperature (but no direct light). After germination, place in freezer for 6 weeks, then sow in sterile planting soil once temperatures get to 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit outdoors. Imitate its natural habitat of high elevations, cold, and icy terrain.

Common Uses:
Commonly used as an arrow poison throughout history for hunting and warfare.

Culinary Uses:
The roots are occasionally mistaken for those of horse radish. When touched to the lips will produce the feelings of numbness and tingling.

Medicinal Uses:
Most of the species of Aconitum contain large quantities of the deadly poison alkaloid pseudaconitine. Wolfsbane can cause severe itching and dermatitis if in contact with human skin, and the poison can be absorbed into the body quickly even with the slightest cut on the skin. Strongly recommended to always wear gloves when handling it. The tiniest amount can be fatal. It is traditionally used in Asian medicine to increase pitta (fire, bile) dosha and to enhance penetration in small doses. In Chinese medicine it is used to treat Yang deficiency or general debilitation. It is a known anodyne, diuretic, and diaphoretic. Internally, Wolfsbane is used to slow the pulse, as a sedative for pericarditis and/or heart palpitations, or diluted as a mild diaphoretic, and to reduce feverishness in treatments of colds, pneumonia, quinsy, laryngitis, croup, and asthma. Initial poisoning will cause gastrointestinal including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea followed by burning, tingling, and numbness in the mouth and face, and of burning in the abdomen. It can cause hypertension, sweating, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headache, and confusion. It is a potent neurotoxin that blocks tetrodotoxin-sensitive sodium channels.

Magical Uses:
A herb associated with Saturn and Mars used in classical witchcraft. Sacred to the Goddess Hecate. The herb is used to reverse shape shifting spells and protects homes from werewolves. Some claim that witches dipped flints into the juice of wolfsbane as poisoned weapons, these flints were called elf-bolts. Used as an incense to honor Hecate and to receive omens/oracles from her. It is an anti-shapeshifting drug, so can help see people’s real forms. Its used for much baneful magic.

Folklore and History:
It is believed that this plant got the name “Wolfsbane” because early Germans used it to poison wolves. In Greek Myth, Medea attempted to poison Theseus with a cup of wine poisoned with wolfsbane.

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Birthwort: Aristolochia clematitis

Official page is now located at: (check this one for revisions and updates)
http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/treelore/?p=1295


Birthwort

The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

Birthwort
Aristolochia clematitis [ Plantae: Aristolochiaceae: Aristolochia clematitis ]

Common Names:
Birthwort, Virginia Snakeroot, Snakeroot, Dutchman’s Pipe, Pipevine, etc.

Localities:
Found throughout the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, and the Caucasus, it is found in many other regions.

Description:
A perennial flowering plant that grows upwards of three feet, possesses an unpleasant smell, and blossoms dirty yellow flowers. Its flowers resemble a birth canal or a pipe, hence lending to the name. The root is spindle-shaped, ranging from 5 cm to 3 dm in length, about 2 cm thick, fleshy, brittle, greyish on the outside, brownish-yellow inside, bitter tasting, and hosting a strong disagreeable odor.

Species:

There are over 350 species, including but not limited to: Aristolochia clematitis (Birthwort); Aristolochia serpentaria (Virginia Snakeroot, Virginia Snakeroot, Snakeweed); Aristolochia reticulata (Snakeroot) ; Aristolochia klugii (Amazonian Snakeroot/Birthwort) ; Aristolochia bracteata (Sudanese Snakeroot/Birthwort) ; Aristolochia rotunda (European Snakeroot/Birthwort); Aristolochia kaempferi and A. fangchi (Chinese Snakeroot/Birthwort) ; Aristolochia indica (Indian Birthwort); Aristolochia mexicana, A. watsonii, A. wrightii (Indian Root, Birthroot, Snakeroot, Dutchman’s Pipe, Spanish: Yerba del Indio, Raiz del India, Inmortal, Comino, Guaco, Yerba del Pasmo, Tlacopatli (Nahuatl) ; Aristolochia grandiflora (Duck Flower, Alcatraz, Spanish: Hierba del Indio, Contribo).

Cultivation:

Common Uses:

Culinary Uses:

Medicinal Uses:
Due to the “Doctrine of signatures” this plant was used a lot in childbirth – a preparation was prepared for women in labor to expel the placenta. However, the aristolochic acid often killed the patient. This plant is so dangerous that not many parts of the plant are ever used anymore. It is highly toxic and lead to the development of tumors if low doses are taken over an extended period of time. Traditionally its fresh juice was used to induce labor. Theophrastus (372-286 BCE) claimed its success with treating disorders of the uterus, reptile bites, and sores to the head. Native Americans used it to treat snake bites, treat stomach aches, toothaches, and fevers. The Aztec used it to treat abscesses, dysentery, and deafness. It is a anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, analgesic, abortifacient, diaphoretic, nervine, tonic, wound healer, and is known to induce menstruation. It stimulates white blood cell activity and is also carcinogenic and damaging to the kidneys. Decoctions were used to heal ulcers as well as asthma and bronchitis. In Sudan was used for scorpion stings. In India it is used as a contraceptive. Aristolochia serpentaria (Virginia Snakeroot) (as well as A. pfeiferi, A. rugosa and A. trilobata) were used alot for treating snakebites, hence the folk name “Snakeroot” even though the Aristolochic acid doesn’t appear to bind and deactivate the Phospholipase A2 of most snake venom. This species though is said to be instrumental in helping bilious, typhoid, typhus fever, small pox, pneumonia, amenorrhoea, and fevers as well as for the bites of mad dogs. The powdered root (1/2 to 1 drachm) has been said to be an aromatic stimulant in rheumatism and gout after childbirth.

Magical Uses:

Folklore and History:
Birthwort came from the term “Aristolochia” which means “excellent birth” as its fresh juice once was used to induce labor.

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