WOTC Extra – Baneful Herbs
What are Baneful Herbs?
The dictionary definition for the word Baneful reads:
“(adj) Archaic destructive; poisonous or fatal.”
This neatly sums up the effects of these particular herbs and plants.
In most cases, they are the more dangerous and less commonly cultivated plants – however there are commonly sold herbs and roots that fall into this classification which may surprise some people.
What link all these plants together is the adverse effects they can have – ranging from severe allergic reactions to death.
What follows isn’t an extensive list of all Baneful Herbs – merely some examples. When dealing with any herb or root work – should it be for handling, burning or ingesting – the practitioner should always conduct thorough research into the properties of the plants and any adverse reactions they may produce.
Examples of Baneful Herbs:
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis):
Also known as Bloodwort, Red Puccoon Root and Pauson.
In America it is also known as Tetterwort – which should not be confused with the British use of this name for the Greater Celandine (Chelidonium Majus).
Used for family and home protection, as well as luck – this herb, when used, is typically powdered and sprinkled around the perimeter of the family home. Due to the bright red colour it produces, this plant has also been associated with Venus and love spells. It is also purported to have been used by some tribes as warpaint – and gained an association with Mars.
When slicing the root of the plant, a reddish sap wells up and is used as a natural red dye. It is said to be especially popular with Native American artists.
The plant produces (primarily) the toxin ‘Sanguinarine’. In the 1800’s, tinctures and poultices were made from Bloodroot and in the 1900’s it was used as a ‘mole remover and cure for cancer. However, since the Sanguinarine toxin kills animal cells – application onto the skin may result in the formation of large scabs (eschar) and can cause extreme disfiguration.
In the 2000’s, Sanguinarine was approved by the United States FDA to be included in toothpastes – however, it is believed by some that this causes a pre-malignant oral lesion (leukoplakia).
Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea) :
Also known as Digitalis, Dead Men’s Bells, Fairy Fingers, Fairy Gloves, Lion’s Mouth, Ladies Glove, Finger Flower.
The leaves, and occasionally the flowers are used for psychic awareness and protection. It is most commonly associated with the element of water and the planet Venus, as well as the Deities Brigit, Morrigu and Dagda.
A folk myth pertaining to foxglove warns users that it can bring life to the dead, but take the life from the living. It is also sometimes said that the spots on the flowers are caused by elves and fairies laying their fingers on the petals.
It is said that the Foxglove is at its most powerful under the light of a full moon, and that if its left to grow around a person’s home – it will drive away malign influences that seek to breach the boundaries. However, this is not recommended if there are children or animals living in the home or nearby.
Foxglove is one of the most difficult plants to use safely – the effects of its toxins vary from person to person with extreme severity, and for this reason it has been widely dropped from use by practicing herbalists.
Known side effects from Digitalis Intoxication (poisoning) include: anorexia, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, xanthopsia (yellowed vision) and blurring of the sight – especially around the outlines of objects and people, giving them a ‘halo’ effect.
Every part of the Foxglove is poisonous to humans and animals (including all livestock, poultry, felines and canines) alike – and although fatalities caused by this plant are rare, there are documented cases. This has been especially common when the plant has been confused for the Comfrey (Symphytum) plant and brewed into tea, which the person has then consumed.
Drying the plant does not reduce its toxicity.
In the 1700’s, extracted parts of the Digitalis were first used in heart-medicine, and in the 1990’s the ‘Digoxin’ was approved for clinical trials in regards to heart failure. However, despite its status – the use of Digoxin and Digitalis is on the decline; this is attributed to safety concerns and a potentially lowered mortality rate – especially in women.
High John the Conqueror (Ipomoea Purga):
Also known as: John the Conqueror, John de Conquer
The roots of this plant are used in various hoodoo spells, and are generally placed in mojo or gris-gris bags. It is said to bring good fortune, success, sexual virility and happiness; as well as protection from all hexes and curses. The effects of the root are determined by the spell work and other ingredients used with it.
The name of the root is said to come from an African Prince who was sold as a slave in the Americas – despite his situation, his spirit was never broken by his captors. In other tales, he becomes a type of Trickster, mainly due to the methods he is supposed to have used to avoid those who sought to re-capture him.
One story states that he is not dead, but waits for his people to call him again – leaving his power behind in the plant so those with the knowledge and the root could summon him.
This plant is poisonous, and the root has a strong laxative effect when ingested. Some members of this plant genus have strong hallucinogenic properties.
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria Majalis):
Also known as: Lily Constancy, Our Lady’s Tears, Jacob’s Ladder, May Lily, Ladder to Heaven.
This plant is often linked with the element of Air, Mercury and Gemini and is used for summoning and divination. It is also linked with the Deities Ostara, Apollo and Aesculapius.
In folklore, this plant is believed to beloved by the Fae folk, and it is believed that the cup shaped blossom act as bells that ring when the Faeries sing. It is also said that these plants form ladders for them to reach the reeds they need to weave their cradles.
When used in the Victorian style language of flowers – the Lily of the Valley signifies the return of happiness.
All parts of the plant are highly poisonous – and if consumed, even in small amounts – it can cause a variety of severe reactions – including abdominal pain, vomiting and a reduced heart rate. In larger amounts it can cause death.
Despite the toxic nature of the plant, it has been used in some folk remedies in very small amounts and some herbalists do continue to use it as a restricted herbal remedy.
Mandrake (Mandragora Officinarum):
Also known as: Mandegloire, Mandragloire, Devil’s Testicles, Satan’s Apple, Alraun
The plant is linked with the element of Fire, the planets Mercury and Earth (not as often) as well as the Deities Diana, Hathor, Hecate and Aphrodite.
This raw root of this plant is mostly used as an amulet or talisman – promoting love magic (working as an aphrodisiac). The plant is also said to aid good fortune in business endeavours and gambling – as well as counter magic protection and warding off evil spirits or intentions.
The folklore that mainly surrounds this plant comes from the shape the roots take when grown – with their tendency to split off; they take on what appears to be a humanoid shape. In the past, it was believed that digging up a Mandrake plant would cause it to scream – killing the gardener; to combat this – the Alchemists and Herbalists of the time would tie a rope around the plant and attach it to the dog – believing that when the dog removed the plant from the ground, the scream would kill it – and they would be free to harvest the exposed bounty without harm.
Because the plant can cause a hypnotic state in people, it is believed the Mandrake was one of the first date-rape drugs as well as being an early anaesthetic.
The root – fresh or dried, contains highly poisonous alkaloids and as well as being a hallucinogenic, it is also known to be a narcotic. In large quantities, it induces a state of oblivion – however some herbalists used to juice small amounts from a finely grated root and would use it to relieve rheumatic pains.
However, too much exposure to this plant is believed to cause delirium and madness.
Mistletoe (Viscum Album):
Also known as: European Mistletoe, Common Mistletoe, Devil’s Fuge, Golden Bough, Holy Wood, Witches Broom.
Associated with the element of air, the sun and the male gender (the white berries have been linked to male potency) this plant is also linked with the deities Apollo, Venus, Freya, Odin and Balder.
A potent drawing herb, the plant are often added to spell work for good fortune and an increase in finances. It is also placed directly upon a place where protection is needed – in this respect it is sometimes carried as an amulet for personal safety. It is said that wearing a sprig around the neck will also encourage invisibility.
Mistletoe is commonly associated with Druids and druidic rites – lore states that the plant is more powerful when cut with a golden sickle on Midsummer’s Day, and that it must not touch the ground when being harvested.
The Yuletide ritual of kissing under the mistletoe stems from the belief that if two lovers share a kiss beneath the plant, it will strengthen their connection and keep their love strong.
In the 16th and 17th Centuries, Mistletoe was used for the treatment of epilepsy and other nerve disorders that caused convulsions. The plant is a narcotic and can have a profound effect on the nervous system.
Some herbal practitioners use mistletoe to make teas designed to slow the pulse and lower blood pressure, treat arthritic pain and prevent snoring. However, due to the toxic nature of the plant, it is not as commonly used as there are other herbs available which can achieve the same results without the risk of poisoning.
Mistletoe has also been studied with a view to becoming a supplement in some methods of cancer treatment.
The leaves, stems and berries of this plant are poisonous if ingested. The effects of eating the plant (especially the berries) can range from a mild stomach ache to severe abdominal distress and diarrhoea. Cases of poisoning in humans is rarely serious (although factors such as age, size and weight play a part) – but pets are at risks, with recorded cases of fatalities in animals such as dogs.
Monkshood (Aconitum Variegatum) :
Also known as: Aconite, Wolf’s Bane, Leopard’s Bane, Woman’s Bane, Devil’s Helmet, Blue Rocket.
A feminine associated plant; it is linked with Saturn, Capricorn and the element of Water as well as the deities Hecate and Medea.
Used for protection and invisibility magic, it is often used to consecrate areas – removing (banishing) negative or harmful areas; to this end Monkshood is sometimes burned as an incense.
Folk lore tells of Monkshood being carried as a talisman to protect against werewolves – or to cure one who had been turned by one.
It is also said that the Goddess Hecate created the plant from the foam produced by the mouths of the guardian dog Cerberus.
Medically, this plant was used commonly until the middle of the 20th Century, when it was replaced with treatments that were considered safer and more effective. Because of the paralysing effects of its poisons, the plant was used in anaesthetics. However it was also used internally to slow the pulse, and when diluted – reduce feverishness in those suffering from colds, pneumonia, laryngitis and asthma.
The effect of taking Monkshood can range according to the dose taken – symptoms will appear almost immediately in most cases, but have been recorded as appearing up to an hour later. Poisoning can result in vomiting, diarrhoea, tingling / numbness or burning in the mouth and face, abdominal cramps and burning sensations and motor weakness. Large doses will cause an almost instantaneous death, however a large dose could see the person surviving for two to six hours before dying.
The plant is so poisonous that the toxin can easily be absorbed through the skin after having touched the plant with bare hands. The effects are almost the same as ingesting the plant.
The poisoning can be treated if discovered in time – patients are monitored for changes in their blood pressure and cardiac rhythm, and they are given activated charcoal to decontaminate the gastrointestinal functions (within one hour of ingestion). Substances such as atropine, lidocaine, amiodarone, bretylium, fecainide, procainamide and mexiletine have also been used in varying cases as antidotes.
Dealing with Baneful Herbs.
If dealing with these plants, roots and flowers – it is extremely important that safety precautions are taken, as many of the poisons and toxins are directly absorbed through the skin.
Care should also be taken when deciding to grow any of these plants – they should be kept away from areas where pets or other people could inadvertently come into contact with them.
As with any herb and root work – erring on the side of caution is a must. If the gardener or practitioner is not certain what they are doing, or what plants they are dealing with – they should leave them alone until they can make a positive identification of the species and the possible ramifications of dealing with them. Baneful herbs are not for novice, new or uninformed practitioners, the potential powers of these plants should be respected by all and approached in a sensible and safe manner.