5 POISONOUS PLANTS Used Since Ancient Times

5 POISONOUS PLANTS Used Since Ancient Times

~ The
Allies  ~

By Kathryn Solie

 Paracelsus, the Swiss physician, astrologer, alchemist, and pioneer of the Medical Renaissance once said “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison, the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison.” This is often shortened to “The dose makes the poison,” or in Latin "sola dosis facit venenum."

Physically “poisonous” plants have the power to kill. But when used in accordance with proper training and extraction method, they can be life saving medicines

In modern modern Western medicine a glycoside, digoxin, is isolated from foxglove to create a leading heart medicine. Alkaloids from poisonous plants in the nightshade family are extracted and used in all kinds of medicines to aid in things ranging from pupil dilation, IBS, motion sickness, and drying the tissues before surgery. Taxol is extracted from the yew tree and used as an extremely effective treatment for cancer.

Looking beyond the mere physical application of these plants there is something in the word “poison” that evokes a sense of danger in the human psyche, an emotional confrontation with mortality that most in our western culture would rather keep far away from their daily thoughts. It is however within this dynamic that poisonous plants can offer to assist in a different type of healing. Even without physical application these plants can be psychologically and metaphysically supportive in facing memories and thoughts that evoke difficult feelings, feelings normally locked away beneath the fortifications of our identity.

Humans have been using poisonous plants as medicine for the treatment of disease in the physical, but also the emotional, and spiritual bodies since the stone age.

1. MANDRAKE. You probably recognize mandrake from its appearance in Harry Potter. Yes, there was actual lore stating the shriek expressed from a mandrake while being extracted from the earth could kill. There are many illustrations in old herbal manuscripts depicting a method for getting around this danger. Simply tie a rope around the crown of the mandrake and tie the other end around a dog’s neck. Distract the dog with some food or water while you escape to a safe distance. Once you’re far enough away, call to the dog and the dog’s running speed will pull the mandrake out of the ground, providing you with both the magical mandrake root and the security to live another day.
Mandrake has been used for every phase of the reproductive cycle in just about every culture where it grows. It’s use has been recorded for everything from its aphrodisiac qualities, to increasing fertility, to easing the pain of birth and menstrual cramps, to aiding in the expulsion of a stillborn baby, to being used in love spells. One of the origin myths of mandrake even state it sprouts up in the spots where hanged men’s ejaculate hits the earth below them. For these reasons women were said to tie mandrake roots to their bodies in order to magically increase their fertility. 

2. BELLADONNA. Belladonna literally translates to “beautiful woman.” The name is thought to originate from an ancient roman practice where women would put drops of belladonna into their eyes in order to dilate their pupils, mimicking signs of arousal. If you’ve ever had your pupils dilated at the optometrist, you likely were given atropine, an alkaloid extracted from belladonna. The latin name for Belladonna, Atropa, comes from the Greek fate Atropos whose job it was to cut the thread of every human life.

Sometimes referred to as “deadly nightshade,” Belladonna never gained huge use in folk medicine due to their highly poisonous and unpredictable nature. A handful of berries is enough to kill a small child.

Lore states that belladonna was the devil’s favorite plant. He loved belladonna so much that the only time he would leave her side was during Beltane, when he was out celebrating with the witches. 

3. AMANITA MUSCARIA. Dale Pendell referred to amanita muscaria as “the most famous entheogen in the world that nobody uses.” Amanita muscaria, commonly known as fly agaric, has captured the hearts of many, even those who have never set eyes on this supreme ally outside of story books. Everywhere this mushroom pops up people have used them for their entheogenic properties, some cultures even worshipped the mushroom as a deity.

The number of theories written about these little red and white fungi are staggering - there are far too many to share in this one article! Perhaps the most well known is by the enthnomycologist, R. Gordon Wasson. He is credited with bringing amanita muscaria back into the public eye through his theory that fly agaric was the famous Soma, the drink of the God’s. Out of the ~1,000 holy hymns in the Rig Veda, 120 are devoted to Soma and it is referenced throughout many of the others.

4. HENBANE. There are theories which state henbane was sacred to the goddesses Demeter and Persephone. Swine are thought to have been a main offering given to Demeter, the “Mother Swine.” Christian Ratsch proposes that being a “lucky swine” was a phrase which came about to indicate one was permitted to ingest henbane. This is perhaps where henbane gets some of its pig-related folk names, such as hog’s bean. Although others have tied this name connection to the goddess Circe, the Goddess of magic, known for turning Odysseus's men into swine, in Homer’s Odyssey. Circe has links to almost all the “poisonous” plants I’ve studied.

Henbane has a long history of medicinal, magical, and recreational use, including being an early ingredient in beers. We can thank henbane for Germany’s beer purity laws, which came about in part to prevent people from using henbane in place of hops. Religious conservatives at the time didn’t like the euphoric and aphrodisiac effects that henbane had on the population.

5. DATURA. Awareness of the remarkable datura has grown rapidly in recent years. Many are drawn to this dark spirit through their intoxicatingly beautiful blooms, which are equally happy in ornamental gardens and roadside ditches. Datura’s reach is widespread, growing in the Americas, Europe, India, China, Africa, and the Middle East. In every place they grow, people have used them both medicinally and ceremonially.

Datura is sanskrit for “thorn apple,” which comes from their incredible (and spiky!) seed pods. In Europe, Datura metel became known as “smoking apple.” They’ve been smoked to treat asthma in most places where they grow. In fact, up until the 1970s you could buy herbal cigarettes called “asthmadors” over the counter that contained a mixture of datura stramonium and atropa belladonna.

With increasing popularity of datura comes increasing misinformation. Datura is both a beautiful, healing, sacred ally & a potential deadly poison. 

Datura and most of the plants mentioned in this article should not be ingested. The way I recommend working with them is primarily through plant spirit communication and flower essences. Both are safe and easily accessible options to work with the psycho-spiritual medicine of these precious and powerful poisonous plants. 
To learn more about safely working with datura, see this video

Kathryn Solie of @PersephonesPath has dedicated her life to the study and practice of non-duality, poisonous plants, herbalism and mystical practices alike. She teaches in-depth programs on the mystery,lore and scientific uses of Poisonous Plants (and beyond.) For her extra-ordinary online Poisonous Plant Medicine Classes, click here!

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