Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Letter B: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

      When I was young, summers were spent out in the yard, roaming about in the nearby woods or poking around in creeks, playing games like "Daniel Boone", "Civil War" and "Jungle Book".  Our parents taught us the basics of outdoor safety; avoid animals acting strangely, don't stick your hands where you can't see, keep track of where you are, be home before dark.  Oh, and don't eat things that you find.  Ever.
     Of course I managed to get lost once. To my embarrassment, when I finally found a house and knocked on the door, explaining that I was lost, it was soon revealed that it was the home of a classmate. It took years to live that down.  I also fell into countless holes and was chased by what I thought was a rabid groundhog. Stupidly, I also sampled vegetation once or twice. I ate a leaf on a dare. And gorged myself from a mulberry tree.
     Mulberries stain horribly. So when I arrived home, Mom took one look at my face and yelled for my father. "What have you been eating? What's all over your face? And don't you DARE say 'nothing' or 'I don't know'."
     With my stock answers taken away and the paddle looming, I babbled out that I'd been eating mulberries from a tree up the road. She cut me off mid-explanation and launched into a fevered account of every child who'd ever been poisoned by eating berries, peppered with threats about making me vomit and taking me to the emergency room. 
     Dad's arrival was met by "guess what your daughter's done now" followed by "you go with her and see what she ate".  Which we did. Dad confirmed that they were indeed mulberries, but I shouldn't have been eating them anyway. After all, they might have been sprayed with pesticide. And why on Earth would I think it was okay to eat something I'd found no matter what it was?  Where was my brain?
     "I dunno" I answered.  When you're a kid, you don't think.

     In 1948 five children in Portsmouth ended up in the hospital, with symptoms ranging from unquenchable thirst and dilated pupils to vomiting and hallucinations.  All had been out to play the day before.  One child in the group, who had not become ill, stated that they had been eating some berries;  he had only eaten one, but the others had consumed quite a few.  When the area where they had been playing was examined, it was found that there were 2 large blackberry bushes covered with ripe berries; intertwined, however, was the plant Atropa Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade, also with large black berries.

     Belladonna is Italian for beautiful woman, and the plant gained its name through the ancient use of eyedrops containing berry extract to dilate a woman's pupils, so that she appeared more attractive and seductive. After long term use this practice often resulted in mental problems, hallucinations, or blindness. All parts of the plant are toxic when directly consumed, and belladonna has been the cause of both deliberate and accidental poisonings.
     Despite its name, Deadly Nightshade has its uses. Belladonna was used in the past as a pain reliever and muscle relaxer.  Up until the early 1990s, a medication called Donnagel containing belladonna and opium as well as pectin and kaolin was available by prescription to treat severe diarrhea. (It is no longer available in the US, which is unfortunate. It worked great and tasted like banana.)
    
     
    

24 comments:

  1. The Portsmouth incident reminded me of that scene in Outlander where this nurse from the future manages to diagnose poisoning and pits herself against the local priest--who's prescribing exorcism :D Love your theme for the A-to-Z, and will be back often. (And hearty thank-yous for tweeting my A post!)
    Guilie @ Quiet Laughter

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    1. Hmmm. My parents may have contemplated exorcism for me at one time or another. ;) Thanks for stopping by, glad you are enjoying it!

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  2. Hi Flash Fiction, I, too, will be back often. I write historical romance and this will give me lots of lovely background material to further research. Thank you. I'm at Novels Now and I'm featuring names this month. Curiously, today it's Bella! anne stenhouse

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    1. Hi Anne! Nice to meet you. I've split my posts between writers' "go to" poisons (like arsenic) and some lesser known ones to keep things interesting. Hope you can find some grist for your mill!

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  3. I'd never eat berries that I found out and about for exactly this reason; you never know which ones are poisonous!

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    1. Normally I wouldn't have, but they looked...delicious. I wasn't always the sharpest tool in the shed.

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  4. I forage all the time, but you're right--you need to know what the stuff is first.

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    1. There's lots of good stuff out there to eat - our local conservation group has outings during the year to teach people how to find and prepare a few easily identified plants.

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  5. Love the idea of Belladonna Nightshade... sounds beautiful and deadly - and perfect for writing!

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    1. It would be a beautiful name for a villain - pretty sure it's been done though. :)

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  6. Your theme is awesome. <3 Love the story. You're giving me great inspiration for some of my upcoming stories. I need some potent poisons from the medieval age. I'll stop by again during the blog challenge. Great job!

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    1. Thank you! There are so many poisons out there that I couldn't possibly cover them all. I'm working on a "wrap-up" post with a list of maybe 40-50 poisons and approximate time frames for them, as a writer's resource. (It will just give the name, writer's will have to research information on toxicology, uses, etc. or I'd end up with a book.)

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  7. Wow that's really informative Li - was it Portsmouth, Virginia?

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    1. Hi David! No, it was England. West Sussex, I believe.

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  8. *cringe* oh man. The worse we ever had was little red berries we weren't supposed to eat - and then all the things we could, mulberries and violets and wild strawberries and wild onions...

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    1. We used to collect dandelion greens for salad too. Now everybody uses herbicides on lawns so I guess even that would be risky. :(

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  9. Interesting choice for theme. I actually learned something. I'm also pretty sure that i had the same rules when I was a child.

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    1. Always happy to share info. It's too bad that so many kids don't have the same opportunities to run free, play and discover. Summer nights, coming home sticky, dirty, and with a pocket full of dubious "treasures".

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  10. Very interesting and I learned a lot about Belladonna. What we women have done for vanity and to be appealing boggles the mind. . .enjoyed your post! I instead posted about good edibles. . .nice to meet you.

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    1. Yes, women have been torturing themselves to attain beauty for centuries. I remember a teacher in elementary school bringing in a pair of slippers that her great-grandmother wore - her feet were bound in the traditional Chinese manner. The slippers were maybe 4 or 5 inches long.

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  11. Ah the poisons' theme!! Interesting information about the belladona. I would not eat anything I am not sure what it is, despite the looks.

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    1. I'm a little more discriminating these days, having survived my free-wheeling childhood. :)

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  12. Belladonna. Potatoes are related to this pretty poison. One of my favorites.

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