The genteel art of gardening has long been cited as having numerous health benefits. You burn calories, you mind unburdens itself of the day to day shit that normally fills your life and you can make easy money by concocting deadly toxins for the sole purpose of wiping out your fellow humans. ‘But surely that’s illegal?’ Yeah, sure is but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Want to know which delicate garden flowers will turn you into the Alan Titchmarsh of the weapons industry? Let’s go…
If someone said, ‘Don’t eat that – it’s poisonous’ would you A) ignore them and start munching away in the hope they’re wrong or B)… Forget it. We all like to think of ourselves as individuals which means you’ve just treated yourself to a delicious meal with Rhododendron side salad. Get ready for the bad news.
Rhododendron plants are poisonous. Not that you’d believe it what with the way they sit there looking all pretty and attracting butterflies. But don’t be fooled – these garden plants are potential killers. Take your mother’s advice and don’t eat random shit you find outside the house (apart from McDonalds. MacDonalds is ok. So are Burger King’s Double Whoppers).
This plant isn’t REALLY poisonous (a small child or catwalk model would need to consume only 100g before they became seriously ill). The real problems come if you were to accidentally boil a large quantity of its leaves. Then accidentally put it in a cup instead of tea bag. Then accidentally drink it.
The main toxin in the plant is called grayanotoxin which, when consumed in large quantities can produce a number of serious side effects. These include muscle weakness, vomiting, sweating, salivation, seizures – a bit like the comedown the government are having after the massive cocaine binge they’ve been on since 2010. Oh, there’s one more thing – death.
There are two notable instances of grayanotoxin being used as a form of chemical warfare. In 401 BC, the army of Xenophon of Athens was poisoned. Many of his troops suffered from vomiting and the inability to walk for a day. Sounds to me like they were drunk. In this case, none of the soldiers died unlike Pompey the Great’s troops who were massacred by the army of Mithradates IV after their supplies had been spiked.
Stating that a plant is mildly poisonous is a little like saying a gun can be lethal when given to an idiot. Both statements are true but still someone will attempt to disprove the accumulated wisdom of all humanity.
Search the internet for things you shouldn’t do and you’ll be rewarded with a veritable treasure trove of useless advice you already know. “Don’t eat yellow snow”, “Wash your hands after touching the drooling, twitching dog” and, the icing on the cake, “Don’t lick conkers” (the type that fall from trees, that is). Ok, it’s pretty much widely accepted that simply touching anything horse chestnut-related isn’t actually harmful. But…
The horse chestnut; our old friend who has provided us with years of conker-filled joy (as well as being near blinded by vicious shards of broken casing) contains a mild toxin that is capable of inducing nausea, vomiting, stupor and, in rare cases, paralysis. Pretty much the same effects as you experience when trying to improve your dancing skills through the copious application of alcohol.
Horse chestnuts contain two toxins: alkaloids and glycosides. Around 40% of all plants contain alkaloids. This chemical can, in large quantities, be fatal. In a bitter twist, your liver can actually work to make alkaloids even more toxic when they enter your body. Glycosides actually start life as a fairly harmless sugary substance but, when the digestion process strips off the sugar molecule they become a raging beast.
But conkers as chemical weapons? Yes – there’s significant amount of aesculin found in the fruit of the horse chestnut tree. Hunters have long used the toxin to stun fish in shallows pools before indulging in the barbeque of a lifetime!
Castor Bean Plant
Image courtesy of: Wikipedia
Little, old ladies are supposed to be sweet and friendly (unlike Juana Barazza). They’re supposed to be able to dish out pearls of wisdom on parenting and gardening – not a whirlwind of pain and agony.
What kind of advice do you expect when you go to your local garden centre? Tips on the best time to plant, feeding and general care are top of the list, right? Even more important to the real green fingered warriors amongst us is knowing how to tell a healthy plant from its sickly counterpart. Which, I would guess, includes finding out how to spot the killer that’s managed to sneak into your patch of prize azaleas!
The castor bean plant is deadly. It may look pretty but, like Casey Anthony, it’s a bitch waiting to snuff out your life – with copious quantities of agony thrown in just to make sure you have a really bad day. You see, this plant contains ricin. Let’s be really clear about this – ricin is not a delicious side to go with your chinese takeaway. It’s a toxin so potent that minute quantities can kill and has long been favoured by assassins, conspiracy theorists and fucked up chicks looking to send a message to the President of the USA.
Castor oil is derived from this plant and, as you’d expect, it has plenty of medicinal uses. But the ricin extract has a much darker side – much darker than even your uncles apparently secret life as a cross dresser. Medical research on laboratory mice has found that, even in relatively low doses (a does the size of a pin head), ricin causes difficulty in breathing, fever, nausea, syanosis, low blood pressure, fluid in the lungs, vomiting and diarrhea. Oh, and death!
The most famous case of ricin being used as a form of chemical warfare was the case of Bulgarian spy turned umbrella tester Georgi Markov. Markov was killed in London on September 11th 1978 after a modified pellet containing ricin was fired into his leg via the tip of an umbrella.
James Bond – eat your heart out.