A Recipe for Disaster? Poisonous Plants

Many of the ingredients used in recipes across collections include a wide variety of plants commonly found in gardens, fields, woods and hedgerows. Many of the plants and herbs listed, like comfrey (used to treat inflammation for over 2000 years) have proven healing properties. Many of the recipes contained in these records are bound together with ingredients like gum Arabic and soap. Gum Arabic is the tree sap from the acacia tree, used in Middle Eastern medicine from the 9th century.

However, some of them are actually very poisonous for consumption and use. Foxgloves are a familiar woodland plant, recognisable by their tall pink and purple flowers. Ingesting the plant can cause severe issues and can lead to heart and kidney malfunction. All parts of this plant can poison you, but the berries are particularly toxic. The plant itself contains tiny needle-shaped structures which irritate the skin and consumption of these can cause swelling and breathing difficulties.

C1253/2, A Receipt for the Dropsy
Take 1 oz of the Fresh Leaf of Fox Glove, boil it in one pint of water, till it comes to half a pint then strain it off, and add 2 Table Spoonfuls of Gin. Give the patient one table spoonful three times a Day.
C696, Diuretic Infusion, No. 64

Take of dried foxglove leaves 1 dr boiling water ½ pint Macerate for 4 hours and lightly covered vessel and strain then add of Spirit of Cinnamon ½ oz – This a form of exhibiting foxgloves [?] Calculated to obtain speedily the diuretic effects of the remedy in dropsical affectations. Dose from 1 to 2 Table spoonfuls given 2 a day or every 8 hours if the patient be strong and  the symptoms linger.

Similarly, hemlock used to be used for its sedative and antispasmodic properties but is now known for being highly toxic. It has white umbrella-like clusters of flowers and very thick and sturdy stems, allowing hemlock to grow exceedingly tall. It was used as a form of execution in ancient Greece and it’s said that Socrates chose this method for his execution. Even touching any part of the plant allows the toxins to penetrate the skin and make the person ill. The toxins are called alkaloids, which cause muscular paralysis, respiratory failure and death. It only takes a small amount to cause death and even wild animals have been known to avoid this plant.

C696, Pills  for Recent Coughs.                             
Take extract of Hemlock Extract of White Poppies of each 1 dr Ipecacuanha in powder 15 grs. Mix well. And divide into 30 pills. – 2 to be taken 3 times a Day. –
These better are of the greatest service in recent Coughs of almost every description – They promote expectoration allay fever and where invitations and pains in the [?] of the Chest – They are useful in Hooping Coughs both of Children & adults –
C696 – Another, for coughs
Take of extract of Hemlock prepared in 1 dr Ipecacuanha in powder 10 or 12 grs hemlock in powder a duff quantity to make the whole into 18 pills
Dose 1 or 2 to be taken 2 or 3 times a day
It uses are as stated in last Prescription in 108

Wormwood is not quite as poisonous as hemlock and foxglove, but its oil contains a chemical called thujone which impacts the nervous system. Ingesting large amounts of wormwood can cause seizures and sometimes death because of this. The spiral-shaped leaves are a distinctive silvery-green with pale yellow flowers. It is possible to extract wormwood safely and is often used in making the drinks vermouth and absinthe.

WYW1352/3/4/7/3, An Excellent Purge by Dr Chyne
Take the best Rhubarb powder 2 Oun[ces]; & a half, Salt of Wormwood a Dram, Orange peel half an Oun[ce]; grated nutmegg two scruples, cochineal, half a Dram. infuse 48 hours by a warm Fire in a quart of Arrack. Strain it off, & put it into a Bottle, cork it well – Of this 2 or 3 spoonfuls may be taken 2 or 3 times a Week, or at pleasure without [?]

Hellebore is another common garden plant but one which is poisonous. Like the foxglove, all parts of the plant including the leaves, stems and roots can be deadly if eaten. Hellebore poisoning is often in popular myths and legends relating to witchcraft.

C1253/2, For thinning of the blood
Tincture of Helibore begin with 20 Drops, going on to 40 –