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Showing posts from April, 2012

Z is for Zebrafish.....

Zebrafish, Pterois volitans, more commonly known as Australian coral reef fish or red lionfish, not to be confused with the harmless Danio rerio, which is a member of the minnow family, popular with aquarium enthusiasts.

No, the zebrafish we're talking about is quite the striking creature covered in red, black and white zebra stripes with venomous spines that circle its body much like a mane. The spines make the zebrafish inedible and inaccessible to predators. Anybody unfortunate enough to be stung by one of these monstrous spines can expect a very painful response.








Zebra Stripes and Lion's Mane
Don't try to test my patience, I assure you, I have none. I care not for where you're standing, I care less for what I've done.
Can't you see I'm swimming here, your foot is in my way. I've got royal business there, I kindly bid you sir, good day.
If you'd rather not heed my warning, I fear I can't be blamed, for any mild discomfort, you feel about your…

Y is for Yew.....

A rather slow-growing evergreen, the Yew has been incorporated in many facets of human tradition since ancient times. It's been used for everything from ancient spears and longbows to medicine for cancer treatments and cardiac remedies. It's also been grown in churchyards and cemeteries for centuries-- even some of the chapels of Normandy have been found in hollowed out trunks of these ancient giants.

But, as revered as this plant is, it must also be handled with great care as all parts of the plant are considered toxic. Though, human fatalities are rare and usually only occur from ingesting a large amount of yew foliage, there have been reports of illness from handling the yew wood--- especially from woodturners crafting longbows or other pieces from the yew wood.

Superstitions abound surrounding this plant--- most having to do with the plant's ability to suck the life from an unsuspecting victim who reclines beneath the tree for shade. The planting of the tree in cemeter…

X is for Xylyl Bromide.....

Ha! Bet you though there wouldn't be a poison for the letter 'X'....

Xylyl bromide is a highly toxic compound used during World War I as a tear gas.

The compound is extremely dangerous and can be fatal if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. So, it's best to avoid any exposure to the compound whatsoever.

Oh, and I'll leave you to play with the pronunciation of Xylyl.... :-)


Why Cry
I promise, Sarge, I ain't a-cryin', there's something in my eye. Don't think I'm weak and sighin', I know there is no 'try'.
I'll be in form in just a minute, can't be left to fall behind. I'll prove my place and be in it. Got a tissue for my eyes?
                                                                                      --- e.a.s. demers

W is for White Snakeroot.....

A poisonous perennial herb native to eastern North America, White Snakeroot, blooms late summer/early fall and contains the toxin known as tremetol. When the plant is consumed by cattle, the toxin contaminates the meat and milk of the animal. And, if the animal is consumed by humans, the toxin is passed on to humans. Tremetol poisoning in humans is generally referred to as Milk Sickness, as many times individuals became sick after drinking the milk of cows who've eaten snakeroot.

Milk Sickness was first noted in the early 19th century when European settlers, unfamiliar with the plant, began moving into its territory and allowed their cattle to roam freely in wooded areas. Symptoms of the illness (convulsions, violent vomiting, delirium) were described as "the trembles" or "the slows" or the illness "under which man turns sick and his domestic animals tremble."

The death toll from Milk Sickness was so high that sometimes half a frontier settlement migh…

V is for Valium.....

Just like the lovely letter 'U', there are very little poisons out there in the land of the letter 'V'....

I'm not even sure why I've opted for valium, other than most people know the drug and the fact that I probably could have used it occasionally myself to deal with a few periods of nasty insomnia.

For those few who may not know of the drug, it's an anti-anxiety medication that is frequently used to help patients suffering from panic attacks, insomnia and the adverse effects of alcohol withdrawal.

Fatally overdosing on valium, alone, is rare...unless the person is already really ill.

No, valium is a drug that doesn't play well with others. So, anyone wishing to use this little gem effectively will need to make sure to drop a few in their victim's vodka cocktail or in their normal sleeping-pill dose...otherwise, they will just sleep deeply with prince/princess valium and wake refreshed and anxiety-free.










Sweet Dreams
You really ought to try this, c…

U is for Uranium.....

And, there aren't too many poisons out there that start with the letter 'U'... I had thought of creating an "Unknown" post--- but, it's rather difficult to describe something that is unknown. I mean, what do you say regarding something you have no clue about?

So, I've stretched the 'poison' definition here to add uranium, in its natural state and not as an intentional bomb/weapon component... it is mildly toxic and radioactive (though it is on the weaker end of radioactive scale). Though there have been a few deaths resulting from the inhalation of uranium hexafluoride (used in nuclear reactors), the deaths have generally been attributed to a concentration of hydrofluoric acid rather than the uranium itself.

Even though uranium is a radioactive metal, the precautionary measure of wearing a simple pair of gloves before handling it is enough to keep you protected.

What uranium is very good at, in large doses--not the everyday minimum exposure that w…

T is for Toad.....

Toads-- those warty, stocky, squat amphibians known for their popularity as an ingredient in witches' bubbling cauldron-brew. These guys aren't exactly the prettiest of creatures, but what they lack in beauty, they make up in creativity. Because their short, thick legs don't offer them much in the line of distance-jumping, the true toads have come up with a rather ingenuous way to deter their predators.


The parotid glands, the largest of the salivary glands, of the Bufo (true) toad family have evolved to secrete a  hallucinogenic toxin that can be deadly if enough of the substance is ingested. The gland is located on the side of the toad's body, behind the eye and is covered in large, visible pores. The toxin is released through pores in the toad's skin. All it takes is for a hungry animal to bite down just a little and suddenly they have a mouthful of milky, mind-altering toxin. It's enough to make you never want to see another amphibian ever again....that is,…

S is for Strychnine.....

Most commonly derived from the seeds of the Strychnos tree in India and Southeast Asia, strychnine is a highly toxic alkaloid used as a pesticide for small vertebrates like birds and rodents.


Poisoning can occur by inhalation, swallowing or absorption through the eyes or mouth. It produces some of the most dramatic and painful symptoms of any known poison-- making it a favorite for movies and murder mysteries.

There is no cure for strychnine poisoning, but if a patient can survive the first 24 hours, then recovery is very probable.

Two of the more famous, "possible" strychnine poisonings were Alexander the Great, whose wine was believed to be contaminated... and Robert Johnson, the famous blues artist who purportedly sold his soul to the devil to play his guitar like no living man ever had. Because of the violent almost inhuman convulsions that victims can endure, the circumstances of Johnson's death probably lent itself to the crossroad's legend, but it's more li…

R is for Rhubarb.....

A favorite of pie lovers near and far, rhubarb is another one of those "edible" plants with "inedible" parts. For this tart and tangy vegetable, it's the leaves that are harmful.

One must be cautious when cooking with this versatile stalk. The entire plant contains oxalic acid in varying degrees, but it is in the leaves that the poison is most concentrated. Consume enough of the leafy material, or cook enough of the leaves in with your stalk and you risk some pretty nasty gastrointestinal symptoms. Consume too much and the dose is lethal.







Rhubarb Delight
Kiss the red stalk gently,  with sweetness and light. Stew with fruit quietly, make tart rhubarb delight.
                                                                                 --- e.a.s. demers

Q is for Quinine.....

A pain-killing, fever-reducing, bitter-tasting alkaloid found in the bark of the Cinchona tree.

Used as an anti-malaria drug since the 17th century, quinine was, until this past century, the only pharmaceutical capable of counter-acting this mosquito-born illness. Though, if too much quinine is administered, the resulting side effects might make you wish you had stuck with suffering through the malaria.

An overdose of quinine-- or, even a non-overdose amount-- can lead to Cinchonism... a pathological condition whose list of symptoms, literally, are astounding. Just a mild case of Cinchonism can lead to flushed/sweaty skin, ringing of the ears, blurred vision, impaired hearing, confusion, headache, abdominal pain, rashes, vertigo, dizziness, dysphoria, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea--- and this is just the MILD case.

More severe cases include the aforementioned symptoms plus disturbances in the person's cardiac rhythm that can lead to death.












Mosquito Blues
I'd tell you not to fear…

P is for Potato.....

That's right.... today's "poison" is the common Po-ta-to.....

Or, most specifically, the green potato---


The storage suggestion for potatoes, to keep them in a dry and "dark" place, is less about keeping the potatoes fresh and more about keeping the potatoes safe to eat.

As unassuming as the ordinary potato is, we most time (okay, perhaps, all the time) forget that the potato is a member of the deadly nightshade family.

When potatoes are stored in a lighted area, especially with lots of fluorescent light, the potato "thinks" it's no longer buried underground and produces chlorophyll pigments to make use of the light and as a defense mechanism, a bitter-tasting alkaloid toxin to discourage animals from eating it. Consume enough green potatoes and the toxin acts very much like strychnine.










Po-tay-to Po-tah-to
Heed what your granny said, don't eat the skin that's green, store your tubers dry and dark, to keep your tater clean.
             …

O is for Opium.....

A favorite of Romantic-Era poets, opium is the dried latex of the opium poppy fruit. The poppy fruit is scored, allowing the milky latex to ooze out. Once it dries, the darkened substance collected is raw opium. The latex contains codeine and up to 12 % morphine, which is frequently processed to produce heroin.

For the collection of Romantic poets, there was a belief that opium heightened the senses, allowing the poets to recreate vivid scenes and images that presented themselves while the poet relaxed in a dream-like stupor. Coleridge's Kubla Khan was said to have been written after one such experience.

Novelists and other literary figures of the time, paint opium in a far less favorable light. Edgar Allan Poe thrusts his narrator in the short story, Ligeia, into such a distraught stupor that he can no longer distinguish fantasy from reality. Other nineteenth century writers feature the drug and its use in connection with crime and lower class foreign immigrants

Opium Specter
A w…

N is for Nutmeg....

Like to add a little extra spice to your pumpkin pie recipe? Maybe a dash or two more to the eggnog?
Depending on the amount already present in the pie and nog, perhaps you should think twice....

Nutmeg contains myristicin, a mind-altering chemical that in high enough amounts can have a hallucinogenic effects similar to LSD. The "nutmeg high" as it's called, can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days and can be fatal if a high enough quantity is consumed.

Though the fatal dose is rather a lot--- a tablespoon or more, depending on body weight and cardiac health--- the amount to get a buzz can be as little as half a teaspoon.

Because of some rather nasty side effects that you have to endure (vomiting, convulsions, diarrhea, etc) before you get to the fun hallucinations, most people don't attempt a nutmeg high after their initial experimentation... seems the effort to endure the before-high-discomfort outweighs any benefit of making it to the high. And, if the pers…

M is for Monkshood.....

Also known as Aconite or Wolfsbane and many other aliases, depending on the part of the world it's found, Monkshood is part of the aconitum family of plants, whose genus name can be translated to mean, without struggle.

Plants of the genus have been used for centuries in medicine and as poison-- most specifically as poison for arrow tips. Monkshood, which is the most common member of this plant family, grows in northern mountainous  regions.

Monkshood, in extremely small amounts has powerful therapeutic qualities, especially in the areas of pain relief. Derivatives of the plant can be ingested, or absorbed through the skin. In fact, the plant's poisonous qualities are so powerful that picking the leaves from the plant without the safety of gloves can be fatal. A tingling sensation followed by acute numbness will run the length of the victims arm and across the chest until the heart is affected.

Even, taking an innocent sniff of the plant's bloom can leave an individual gid…

L is for Laudanum.....

Nothing like walking into your local chemist or pharmacy and picking up a bottle of alcohol-laced opium...er, laudanum.

This Victorian cure-all was taken for everything from stomach trouble to insomnia to aches and pains. Nurses were even known to spoon feed infants the bitter, red-brown liquid. What better way to lull a colicky babe to sleep than to dose him up with some alcohol and opiates....

Laudanum was widely used and prescribed throughout the United States and Europe during the Romantic and Victorian Eras. The addictive qualities of Laudanum and the fact it was cheaper in  price than gin or wine--as it was taxed as a legal medicine and not as an alcoholic beverage--made it, initially, a working class drug of choice. Though it found itself latched to the addictive psyche of several well known individuals, including the wife of former president, Abraham Lincoln and the renowned poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Overdose by Laudanum, either accidental or intentional, happened quite …

K is for Kerosene.....

A petroleum distillate, kerosene has been used for centuries as a source of heat and light. Often going by the name of paraffin in the UK and other parts of the world, the process for distilling crude oil and petroleum into kerosene has been written about since the 9th century. But, it wasn't until 1846, when Abraham Gesner, who coined the name kerosene, gave a public demonstration of an innovative distillation process which rendered a thin clear liquid, that kerosene became the new and improved lamp fuel.

Over the years, kerosene's uses have widened to include cooking fuels, insecticides and even entertainment in performances that incorporate fire breathing and fire juggling.

As a pesticide, kerosene is extremely effective at killing large numbers of insects--- most notably, bed bugs and head lice. It can even be applied to standing pools of water to kill mosquito larvae.

As beneficial as kerosene has been over the centuries, it is, nevertheless a potent toxin, where ingestio…

J is for Jimsonweed.....

Also known as Jamestown Weed and Devil's Trumpet, this plant, related to the nightshade family of plants, is extremely toxic. For centuries, however, parts of the plant (specifically the leaves and seeds) have been used for their hallucinogenic qualities. The effects of Jimsonweed on the human that has consumed it have been likened to those of LSD, the major difference being the person hallucinating on Jimsonweed has an inability to distinguish reality-- s/he will not be able to comprehend that they are under the influence of anything.

Poisonings by Jimsonweed lead to severely delirious episodes, commonly called 'Vanishing Cigarette Phenomena'.  Victims become obsessed by things that aren't actually there and can become frantic in their search for the same thing once it "vanishes"... some of the most recurring hallucinations involve smoking cigarettes that aren't actually there, the victims becoming very confused/alarmed when they can no longer find the c…

I is for Inland Taipan.....

Native to Australia, the Inland Taipan is regarded as the world's most venomous land snake. The Inland Taipan adapts to its environment as the seasons change, its skin  growing dark during the colder winter months (to aid in absorbing heat) and growing lighter during the warmer months of summer.

The Inland Taipan is quite the shy and reclusive reptile, more likely to scurry away from an intruder than to attack. For this reason, it isn't often thought of when listing the world's most dangerous species. But, there is no doubt that the Inland Taipan, with its neuro-toxic venom-- the amount from a single bite capable of killing 300 adult humans or 50,000 mice-- that this snake is definitely the most venomous.

Most venomous does not mean most deadly... that title belongs to the snake responsible for the most human deaths. Just because the Taipan is capable of killing 300 humans with a single bite, doesn't mean it runs rampant decimating populations. In fact, only a fraction …

H is for Hemlock.....

The philosopher's bane--- Sometimes known as "devil's porridge", hemlock was a favorite method of execution in ancient Greece, the most famous incident involving Socrates. Sentenced for "failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges" and "introducing new deities," Socrates was condemned to death by drinking a hemlock-based liquid.

After being condemned to death, Socrates then had to act, unfortunately, as his own executioner, a "press-gang" suicide, if you will....

Unlike most poisonous plants that might offer its victims altered realities or hallucinations, which lend themselves readily to many of the witchcraft and folklore myths, hemlock attacks the central nervous system--- creating an ascending muscular paralysis, which results in respiratory arrest once it attacks the respiratory muscles--- leaving its victims completely lucid up to the moment of death. Definitely not an easy way to meet one's end....



Hemlock Brew
O…

G is for Geographic Cone Snail.....

Up to this point, all the poisons and toxins I've highlighted have been plant-based or basic periodic elements. Today, I thought we might venture into the realm of the animal kingdom...

...enter the Geographic Cone snail:


There are nearly 500 species of Cone Snails, but the Geographic Cone Snail (whose intricately-patterned shells are coveted by collectors) are by far the most deadly. There is no known anti-venom for the cone snail's toxic sting. Being stung by this reef-dwelling snail from the Indo-Pacific, becomes a battle to outlive the potency of the venom.

It goes without saying that the venom of this fish-eating gastropod must be instant-acting and potent, otherwise their prey would simply swim away to die, leaving the cone snail with no meal and a waste of venom. This species of cone snail has been disturbingly nicknamed the cigarette snail as the quip connected with the snail's toxicity is that a victim would only have the time to smoke a cigarette before the venom…

F is for Foxglove.....

A member of the Digitalis family of plants, Foxglove has been useful in the medical field as a group of cardiac medications are extracted from its leaves.


This beautiful biennial that adorns your lovely garden hides a deadly secret. Also known as Dead Man's Bells and Witches' Gloves, just a single nibble of a leaf could be fatal. The entire plant is toxic, not even drying or cooking it diminishes the level of toxicity-- which is unfortunate as several accidental poisonings have occurred where people have mistaken members of Digitalis family for the harmless Comfrey, which is often brewed in teas.

In folklore, foxglove is connected with fairies. The name has been attributed to a folktale, where fairies would give the flowers to foxes. The foxes would use the flowers to "glove" their toes so they could run through chicken coops without being heard. It is believed that the spots inside the foxglove flower are where a fairy has touched the plant and anyone who plants fox…

E is for Elderberries.....

All parts of the Elder plant is toxic, including the berries that are so frequently used in foods and certain wine production. The only way to consume the berries of elders safely is to cook the MATURE berry. There are some sources that believe as long as the berry is fully ripe, that it is harmless.

Every other part of the elder plant, though, is highly toxic--the leaves, branches, bark and especially the roots--containing a glycoside that produces cyanide when it has been metabolized by the body's digestive system. So, medicinal teas made with elder leaves should be consumed with caution. The wines and marmalade made from mature berries are perfectly safe.


The power of the poisonous Elder tree has been revered since ancient times, where the presence of an Elder tree was meant to ward off evil and protect the area from witches.. though, conversely, several folk tales have witches congregating beneath the Elder trees, especially when they were ripe with fruit.

There is also the be…

D is for Death Cap Mushroom.....

It's probably safe to say that a great number of accidental poisonings were a result of mistaking one thing for something else. Case in point--- the death cap mushroom....


This harmless-looking fungus is responsible for most of the world's deaths by fungal poisoning. The problem lies in the fact that this deadly mushroom closely resembles several different edible varieties and the unsuspecting woodland hiker might be tempted to gather a few, not knowing what they had collected for their last evening meal....


Knowing that a single death cap mushroom could have enough toxin to kill a healthy adult, it's enough to put a person off mushrooms for life.

The toxic traits of this forest dweller have been known since ancient times, lending itself as a possible contributor to the death of the Emperor Claudius at the hands of his wife, Agrippina. Claudius was known to have a penchant for mushrooms. His wife was known to have a penchant for poisoning, having done away with her current h…

C is for Cyanide.....

A favorite of mystery writers, suicidal Nazis and homicidal nobles.

Occurring naturally in the fruit stones/seeds of Apples, Peaches, Mangoes and Apricots, cyanide took its name when the dye Prussian Blue was accidentally created, containing iron and a then unknown agent-cyanide. The iron-containing compound was named ferrocyanide, or, 'blue substance with iron'... and when the compound was analyzed and the iron removed, the resulting leftovers were cyanide.


The world of mystery literature is dotted with this bitter almond-flavored poison and the killers' continued attempts to disguise the poison's almond flavor and aroma.

A quick way to end one's existence and prevent the "imagined horrors worse than death," it was nothing for this handy little poison, in capsule-form, to find its way crushed between the teeth of those fleeing capture and torture. The Goebbels fed the capsules to their five children before taking their own lives. Even the Fuhrer, himself…