Wicked Plants

Have you ever heard of Buzz Blossoms? You Will!

By Kathleen Hale ~ WRHS Unit Chair

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There a tender member of the aster family that is showing up on social media and in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.  Spilanthes acmella goes by the common name Buzz Blossom, which is a big clue as to why it’s found appealing. While the leaves, both cooked and raw, have been used in northern Brazilian cuisine, it’s the blossoms that are now being used in fashionable and pricey cocktails. 

Why? Take a sip and your mouth goes numb. This appeals to some people. Spilanthes acmella goes by other evocative names: Electric Daisy, Toothache Plant, Tingflower and Buzz Buttons. The blossoms are attractive red and golden globes.  Their numbing nature has proven useful in numbing mouth pain.

An extract made from all parts of the plant is sold as “jambu juice”.  It makes you drool, which I suppose could also mean you can call it “mouth watering”.   If we choose to be nerdy, and I always do, we might designate jamba juice as a “sialogogue”, meaning that it stimulates the production of saliva.

But let’s get really nerdy.  As in, let’s stand in line for an hour or two in order to shell out $15.00 to the Disney Empire, Overlord to the Star Wars Cinematic Universe. 

Ladies and Gentlemen: allow me to introduce “The Fuzzy Tauntaun”. It is a signature alcoholic libation served at Oga’s Cantina. Oga’s is a “notorious watering hole” that has recently opened in Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Note that, because there are no actual conventional liquor bottles in Oga’s, so you have to order a signature alcohol libation if you want any adult beverage.

Now, I'm sure that I don’t need to remind you that a Tauntaun is actually a space lizard that resembles a bipedal llama, and lives on the ice planet of Hoth.

After the unexpected Rebel victory at Yavin, the heroic Luke Skywalker and his companions sought refuge in a secret base on Hoth, and found a way to harness and ride Tauntauns around its snowy waste.  They were not docile mounts, and we are advised by Han Solo that they smell bad both on the inside and the outside.

Presumably, after the Rebellion abandoned Hoth, their whereabouts having been discovered by the Empire, the Tauntauns went back to gamboling in the snow drifts.

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But here we have their alcoholic avatar.  The Fuzzy Tauntaun is made of Cîroc Peach Vodka, Bols Peach Schnapps and Simply Orange®, topped with tangerine, pure cane sugar and…BUZZ FOAM.  The taste of the beverage itself is mostly peach.  But the foam does apparently deliver a tingle followed by a numbness. In the picture above, it's the vibrant yellow cocktail!

There is a smoothie chain called “Jamba”, which seems to show up in college towns. They carry preparations of ginger, wheatgrass, cayenne, turmeric and all those good things.  But not jambu juice.

You can purchase extract of Spilanthes acmella from various online sites, where it is marketed for all kinds of things, including repelling mosquitoes, acting as a human aphrodisiac and a snake bite remedy.

How Disney concocts the buzzy foam for big money cocktails is a secret and I know better than to mess around in the realm of Disney secrets. 

Or those of the Empire.


Monks Hood! The most Wicked Pretty Thing in the Garden!

 

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society Unit Chair

 

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Aconitum, as any kid who used to watch the television show Teen Wolf can tell you, is also commonly known as “Wolf’s Bane”.  As in, this late summer blooming member of the delphinium family has wicked mojo in repelling werewolves. I believe the sleek, hormone driven werewolves in question referred specifically to “Blue Wolf’s Bane”.  That doesn’t narrow the search much: the flowers are usually blue, although there are white and purple varieties.

 

I can’t tell you how effective Aconitum is against werewolves.  But it is also known as “Mouse Bane”, “Leopard Bane” and “Women’s Bane”, and I can tell you that I fit one of those categories, and it never kept me away.  Aconitum is a beautiful plant. It thrives in partial shade, doesn’t mind damp feet, and produces its spires of heavenly blue flowers just when the garden is starting to look like it might be thinking of winding things up for fall. It will generally thrive in the same garden as its spring flowering cousins, delphinium and hellebore.

 

Of course, most of Aconitum’s 250 or so varieties are also extremely poisonous. That may be how the attribution “Bane” tended to come up.  There are stories of tipping javelin points in an Aconitum preparation in order to assist in dispatching dangerous prey. Not women, obviously.

It is the poison that dispatched Hamlet, and a few of his nearest and/or dearest when it was applied by the evil Claudius to Laertes’ dueling sword.

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Another series of common names for Aconitum reflect the idea that each individual flower on the stalk resembles some sort of hat, hence “Devil’s Helmet” or the more common “Monk’s Hood”. I remember how hard I tried to imagine little foxes wearing gloves after hearing the common name for Digitalis. I’m afraid this is something of the same story.

 

 

Aconitum plants contain a powerful neurotoxin, aconitine, which can kill almost instantaneously. There is no antidote.  Treatment is mostly supportive.  There is some success in purging the toxin from the victim’s system with charcoal. Every part of the plant is toxic to humans.  Just touching the plant has sometimes been associated with headache, nausea, and numbness and tingling in the area affected, although not death.  But, wash your hands after handling it!

 

Although there have been cases of homicide through the use of Aconitum, more cases of toxicity arise from people foraging and eating it themselves, either through a mistaken identification or because it’s so pretty. However, those who have lived to tell the tale say that it tastes nasty. Then your mouth goes numb.

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It almost goes without saying (but when did that ever stop me?) that there are some who claim therapeutic value for teas or tinctures made from Aconitum. Don’t do it.  If a therapeutic dose exists, it is just too close to a dose that would be harmful or fatal.  The word, “neurotoxin”, is one obvious tip off. However, we are told that the esteemed, if fictional, herbalist, Brother Cadfael, made a preparation of Aconitum. “Its roots make an excellent rub to remove pain, but it is very potent if swallowed.”  As, of course, it is.  See the Brother Cadfael mystery novel titled, “Monk’s-Hood”.

 

There is a great deal of ancient lore about Aconitus. It is also named hecateis, after the goddess Hecate. It is reputed to be an important ingredient in potions that promote flying, but it is also employed to dispatch unfaithful lovers (Medea tried to kill Theseus with it) or upstart rivals (Athene used it to cut short her weaving competition with Arachne).

 

Pliny the Elder, who was such a devoted naturalist that his life was cut short by venturing too close to the Vesuvian eruption for the sake of science, had this deliciously ominous thing to say about Aconitus: “it is in its nature to kill a human being unless in that being it finds something else to destroy.”

 

Now that’s wicked!

 

 

 

Western Reserve Herb Society Medicinal Disclaimer: In accordance with FDA and other government entity rules: the information and products you may learn about in regards to Herbal Wellness as a result of your association with WRHS are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  You, and you alone, are legally responsible for any and all decisions you make regarding the health of yourself, your family and your friends and even your pets. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have learned as a result of your association with WRHS. Reliance on any information provided by The Western Reserve Herb Society, members teaching or writing for WRHS or guests speaking at the invitation of WRHS , is used solely at your own risk. 


Sinister Beauty Attends Herb Society Luncheon!

 

By Kathleen M. Hale Unit Chair- Western Reserve Herb Society

 

From Kathleen- This was my first herbal blog post, from October of 2016.  The gateway drug for me: I found out that I love to write this stuff.  I present this now in part because, darn, if this plant isn’t back in my garden, but also because we are having a lot of discussions just now in our Unit about poisonous plants and what to do about them.  So I hope to write portraits of some of our most Wicked Plants in the next few days.  But this is where I started.

 

 Last week I put together a bunch of table top floral arrangements for the Western Reserve Herb Society October Unit Meeting in a bit of a hurry.   I threw together a selection of yard flowers and peppers just now maturing from my over enthusiastic planting in the spring. The pretty filler in the arrangement came from a perennial that I had also planted in the spring, under the impression it was Joe Pye weed.  When it finally started blooming in the early fall it was clear that I was mistaken.  It looked like this:

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Pretty, right?  When I was asked to identify the mystery flower, my lame observation that I thought it was Joe Pye Weed met with the pitying scorn it deserved.  So I looked it up to redeem myself, and the answer is much more interesting, menacing and twisted. No innocent pearly everlasting.  This was Ageratina altissima, also known as White Snakeroot, Richweed, White Sanicle, Tall Boneset, and (I must point out) White Joe Pye Weed.

White snake root is fairly bursting with the toxin tremetol.  It is native to the American Midwest and Upper South, and when the first Europeans brought livestock to the area, the combination was lethal. The animals themselves would, after eating the leaves or stems of the White Snake Root plant, develop “the Trembles”, which is pretty much what it sounds like. But worse. 

If people drank the milk from a cow suffering from the Trembles, the results were seizures, vomiting and death.  The link between affected cows and milk was easy enough to trace, and the disorder was commonly known as Milk Sickness.  Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks, died from Milk Sickness in 1818, and so did many, particularly in the Ohio Valley.

But to establish the link with White Snake Root took a more subtle mind, and here we encounter a woman that I think we should hear more about, Dr. Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby.  In the 1830’s Dr. Bixby heard from an unidentified Shawnee woman about the toxic nature of White Snake Root. Once the link was established, farmers began to eradicate White Snake Root, although, apparently, you can still buy it at garden centers as a perennial that does well in damp areas with indifferent light. 

And.. a preparation from the root is traditionally held to be an antidote to snake bite.

So, there’s that.

 

 

Medicinal Disclaimer and About the Western Reserve Herb Society

In accordance with FDA and other government entity rules: the information and products you may learn about in regards to Herbal Wellness as a result of your association with WRHS are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  You, and you alone, are legally responsible for any and all decisions you make regarding the health of yourself, your family and your friends and even your pets. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have learned as a result of your association with WRHS. Reliance on any information provided by The Western Reserve Herb Society, members teaching or writing for WRHS or guests speaking at the invitation of WRHS , is used solely at your own risk.