I spent all day Saturday baking cheesey sticks, cup cakes, chocolate chip cookies and a few cook ahead meals for the freezer. He who thinks he should be obeyed is away a few nights next week, and I freeze meals so he can take some with him rather than the snack crap he’d live on otherwise. One heart attack is enough so keeping him away from junk food is in my job description.
Kyle, Tina’s son had broken a finger on Friday evening so JG, my youngest, decided she wanted to take him some cup cakes and cookies. The kids were munching, and Tina and I sat chatting, and I asked her about a mystery plant she’d had growing for some months in a pot she thought was going to produce bell peppers. It stands as tall as me, about 5 feet and is about three feet in diameter. It has large toothed leaves and yellow trumpet shaped flowers, which before they get to the full trumpet stage resemble the flowers produced by courgettes (Zucchini) in size,shape and colour. It’s only when the flowers open fully their trumpet shape is apparent.
‘Nope” Tina said definitively, I’ve asked everyone I can think of, nobody knows what it is.”
Convinced it was some kind of fruit and the very sharp spines on it were to protect it we decided to open one of the large just off round, seed pods. Something must have been telling us there was a chance something wasn’t good about the plant as we cut the pod off the plant and took it a good distance from the house before hacking it open.
No fruit, no pit, just dozens and dozens and dozens of off white seeds, quite like those in a sweet pepper but far more of them, tightly packed into the seed case. Unsure what to do with it we tossed it into the thick undergrowth on the far side of the garden away from kids, dogs and cats.
Time to get some serious searching done so onto the internet and there it is, the mystery plant, Datura Stramonium. Jimsonweed. We were disappointed, it looked way to majestic to be a weed, we were hoping it was some exotic edible. Many variations in the flowers occur, they can range from white through to violet and it’s these variations that make recognising it difficult. It get’s it’s name from an incident in 1679 in Virginia:
In Jamestown in 1679, soldiers ate leaves in a salad and experienced ‘a very pleasant comedy’. In the “History and Present State of Virginia” (1705), Robert Beverly gives an account of what happened. “Some of them eat plentifully of it, the Effect of which was a very pleasant Comedy ; for they turn’d natural Fools upon it for several Days: One would blow up a Feather in the Air; another would dart Straws at it with much Fury; another, stark naked, was sitting in a Corner, like a Monkey, grinning and making mows at them ; a Fourth would fondly kiss and paw his Companions and snear in their Faces with a Countenance more antick than any Dutch Droll. . . . A thousand such simple Tricks they play’d, and after Eleven Days, return’d to themselves again, not remembering anything that had pass’d.” This incident gives the name jimsonweed (Jamestown Weed).
The only people that risk eating this thing are those looking for a very bad trip. It is full of psychoactive ingredients that can be obtained from ingesting any part of the plant. It has been used in the past for medical purposes, it contains atropine and scopolamine and comes from the same plant group as Belladonna, which is also called deadly nightshade. The problem with it is there is very little leeway with the drugs contained in this plant…the medical dose, which in itself is difficult to titrate, is very close to the psychotropic dose, which is just a hair away from the fatal dose. The active ingredients in the plant vary in strength depending on which part you eat, and even those parts vary in the strength of the active ingredients depending on where the plant is in its lifecycle. There are many articles relating to Jimsonweed poisoning and all of them are as scary as hell.
The United States National Library of Medicine says the following regarding Jimsonweed:
Jimsonweed is a tall herb plant. Jimsonweed poisoning occurs when someone sucks the juice or eats the seeds from this plant. You can also be poisoned by drinking tea made from the leaves.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
- Hyoscine (scopolamine)
- Tropane alkaloids
Note: This list may not include all poisonous ingredients.
The poison is found in all parts of the plant, especially the leaves and seeds.
- Bladder and kidneys
- Little to no urine production (urine retention)
- Eyes, ears, nose, throat, and mouth
- Blurred vision
- Dilated pupils
- Dry mouth
- Heart and blood
- Elevated blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Nervous system
- Red skin
- Whole body
Seek immediate medical help. Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional.
With Tina routinely having a garden full of kids, and with Bertie the Dalmatian and Brian the cat scuttling around it was decided there and then that the plant had to go, and incineration is the method of choice. Living in quite a rural setting at the north end of the island Tina is concerned that the seed pods may ripen and spread unless they are totally destroyed. I agree entirely so tomorrow we will be death day for the Devils Trumpet.
Tina’s mom is extremely knowledgeable regarding plants and she had never come across it before, and both Tina and I are avid gardeners and we hadn’t a clue. I was quite surprised to find it was so common in the United states. Common enough for it to be used quite frequently as a legal high having not yet made it onto the controlled drugs list. A quick flick thorough half a dozen UK sites tells me it’s not all that common here.
As it was bell peppers she had planted in the pot where the weed has grown it would have been interesting to know the origin of the seeds. Sadly the packaging has long since gone so we will never know if it was a contaminated packet of seeds or if it has arrived via a bird who seeded the pot with it’s droppings.
We’ve taken photographs of it and will ask around to see if anyone else has it in their garden. It’s undoubtably a dangerous plant to have around children and pets and we would hate to think of a child getting ill, or worse from accidental ingestion.
unripe seed pod
ripe seed pod
It’s worth having a good look around the garden to see if you have any of these plants, and if you have, disposing of them.
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Contributed by Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic.
Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.