We have to be forever grateful to those people, who over the centuries trialled potions by the apothecaries in good faith that whatever they were given, would cure whatever ailed them. They often did and put them out of their misery completely – and terminally.
Many plants can be the most beautiful and most useful to humans but have a darker side to them as some of our ancestors would no doubt have found out. You can’t help admiring the tall Digitalis (Foxglove) which now comes in a variety of colours and keeps the bees extremely happy. Eaten, it is extremely poisonous yet our more modern apothecaries have managed to harness and control the poison for the benefit of millions of people as anyone with a heart condition can vouch for.
Elderberry, known better for it’s wine and it’s flowers for elderberry champagne, some of the species contains a form of cyanide and cannot be ingested raw. However our native species of elderberry is apparently non-toxic, leaving us to continue to enjoy it’s fruits in liquid form.
Rhubarb, hardly a flower but regarded as a fruit, though not a fruit, belonging to the polygonaceae family which covers various other vegetables and herbs. It’s culinary use is mainly for desserts such as pies and crumbles. A bag of sugar and a stick of rhubarb to dip in it was a favourite treat for children before parents indulged their offspring in commercial sweets. It’s medicinal properties are known worldwide for relief of abdominal discomfort but the leaf is poisonous.
Yew berries are sweet, delicious to eat as long as you don’t eat the
seeds contained within the fruit. The red flesh is the only part of the yew tree which is non-toxic .
Aubergines, tasty whatever way you cook them but don’t eat them raw, they’re a close relative of deadly nightshade and ‘deadly’ could describe them well.
Comfrey, anyone with the recipe for comfrey fritters as a tasty bite should perhaps think twice about it, since comfrey is known to contain a cocktail of poisonous substances, however, at least 6kgs would need to be eaten before risking damage to the liver.
Rosemary, the thought of it conjures up combinations of kitchen aromas, from roasts to baking but it’s oil is thought to cause miscarriages!
Verbascum (mullein), not so impressive as the foxglove, not as popular but it does contain narcotics though only dangerous to fish!
There are so many edible plants in the garden which are safe to eat if you know which parts not to eat so it is important to start teaching children early the differences and the consequences of ignorance of what they are eating.
Sadly, not so many people grow their own flowers, fruit or vegetables and may not think about teaching their children what dangers there are by not knowing the difference from good and evil. You can learn a lot from books, but nothing beats learning ‘hands-on’. I grew up with my parents teaching me what I could eat and what I couldn’t and I taught my daughter. Is anyone teaching your children?
Many plants contain poison but in such small doses they may only cause a slight discomfort, such as the stinging nettle and not all are fatal but they contain toxins for a reason. The humble lettuce becomes bitter and inedible when it ‘bolts’ and is about to produce seeds, it’s their way of protecting themselves and the continuance of their species.
If you want to know more about poisons in some plants, there is an interesting and comprehensive list in ‘The Poison Garden‘ website.
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