In an English country garden, amongst the pretty wildflowers and manicured lawns, you may find a baneful herb or two, or three... or many if you know what you're looking for. These herbs, plants and flowers are so named because if used with bad intentions, or even just by accident, they can cause illness, injury or even death.
Lots of plants have a historic association with witchcraft and many of them have made the journey from magic potions to modern medicine. Though 'baneful' herbs walk the line between doctor and death, some plants are pure magic. That's why these 'flora obscura' are the inspiration for my new collection, The Poison Path.
The most famous baneful herb of all, all hail the Queen, Atropa Belladonna, aka Deadly Nightshade. Belladonna has long been associated with witchcraft and so has got a bit of a bad rep, but she's not all bad! Yes, Belladonna is toxic and sometimes even lethal with the right, I mean, wrong dose, but it is also used in modern medicine to this day. When an optometrist dilates your pupils, it may well be a derivative of Belladonna in the eyedrops they use. In fact, that’s how Belladonna got it’s name! Italian ladies used to squeeze the juice of Belladonna berries into their eyes to make their pupils larger because it made them look prettier! And ‘beautiful lady’ in Italian is, of course bella donna.
The dark berries of Belladonna are also know as 'Murder Berries' and have been used as poison in countless movies and books, they are actually thought to be what caused Juliet to appear dead, since one of the side effects of eating the berries is a deep & deadly sleep.
Lily of the Valley
May’s birth flower (yes, thats a thing), also called 'Lady Tears', Lily of the Valley was said to have been formed from the tears of Eve as she was cast from the Garden of Eden. Even though this plants is a symbol of sweetness - don’t eat it! Not the leaves, flower, roots, sap, seeds, nothing! The whole plant is super toxic. If you eat any part of this sweet-smelling plant you can expect severe vomiting at best, and if that doesn't happen a coma or even death is on the cards. Be warned! It's deadlier than it looks.
Snapdragons were my favourite when I was a kid. I loved snapping them with my fingers, I thought they were pure magic! Actually, some ancient cultures believed they had supernatural powers and that they offered protection from witchcraft and curses and some believed that anyone who ate them would have beauty and youth restored to them. Good job they aren’t actually poisonous. So why then did they make it into the Poison Path I hear you ask? Well, I’ve been fascinated with Snapdragon Seed Pods ever since I first set eyes on them. Surely they aren’t real I thought, but yep, one Autumn I went out in search of a snapdragon plant and there they were. Perfect little screaming fairy skulls, some with long pointy noses, all with terrified gapping mouths. I instantly fell in love and I knew I wanted to keep them forever, so, like medusa turned her enemies to stone, I turned them to silver and began collecting more strange flowers for a collection.
The Little Apple of Death
The Manchineel tree, which grows in northern South America is the worlds most dangerous tree. The milky sap produced by this tree is so toxic that even sheltering beneath it in a rain storm can cause an extreme rash! And you definitely don’t want to eat the fruit form this tree - it's so toxic that just one bite will cause severe swelling to your throat as well as blistering and burns to your digestive tract! And don't try and burn it because the smoke from a burning tree can cause temporary blindness! Yikes!
Also know as 'The Witches Herb' and 'The Devil's Nettle' Yarrow has long been associated with witchcraft and magic. Traditionally used for healing wounds as well as reducing inflammation, digestive disorders and even reducing anxiety, this herb isn't so much baneful as magical! I had to include this herb in the Poison Path because it has a history of appearing in so many potions and magical recipes. Though Yarrow has a bad rap (just like us witches) it actually is a wonder herb and sounds deadly from it's nicknames alone. The flowers even taste bitter like medicine. Although, of course, like all things in nature, too much of it might cause some side effects, Yarrow is definitely a friend rather than a foe.