I have been happily contemplating the reduction of growing produce for the table due to the inconsistency of our weather in south-west Scotland and my over-ambitious list of produce best grown in sunnier climes. It really all came about when I started considering my neighbour’s grandchildren and the risk of them picking under-ripe wonderberries, a very nice little berry, grown mainly for jam when black but highly poisonous when green. I was given a copy of ‘Wicked Plants’ by Amy Stewart at Christmas and what started off as a casual browse, ended up in being engrossed in a world of deceit and evil intentions of the criminal fraternity of the plant kingdom.
Those innocent, pretty flowers with the intoxicating perfume can be evil seductresses making granny’s cottage garden a den of sadists. Wise parents will teach their children the dangers of eating unknown berries but what if the parents themselves are unaware of what lurks behind the awesome blooms?
Apparently bread is the saviour of poppies as long as the poppies are not harvested for their opioid values and only its seeds are used in baking. Some of the plants are straightforward killers but some have hallucinogenic results which can also be fatal.
The book details many plants not normally grown in the UK but there were some familiar faces in the list. For some time I have been troubled with a skin irritation which I put down to be eczema. I had blamed it on the Marigolds, the latex washing-up gloves, not the flowers, so changed to vinyl gloves instead. In fact everything was getting the blame for the very painful state of my hands.
I then realised it had something to do with tomato plants. On reading the book, it gives another possibility; the sun, in conjunction with the tomatoes making them phototoxic. However, the plant which started this off was the wonderberry, a relative of deadly nightshade, but consider it’s cousins which are often included in a daily diet. Potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum, pepper, tobacco and aubergines, all considered safe to eat. We learned not to eat green potatoes or the leaves of rhubarb etc. from our parents, but in our modern age of take-away fast food and less people cooking or growing produce, we seem to be slipping into a computer dependent lifestyle and knowledge passed down through generations is getting lost.
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