The five deadly poisons that can be cooked up in a kitchen
So, too, was the recipe for potato poison which, although less toxic than ricin, is still deadly if ingested in sufficient quantity. The poison, made from potatoes, can be put in food and drink. It induces coma, convulsions and a shutdown of the lungs.
Nicotine poison can be ingested in food or drink or injected and causes death from lethal shock to the body, shutting down the brain, leading to coma and death. It, too, was a credible recipe.
Bourgass had three recipes for cyanide, including one used by the Nazis on concentration camp victims. All were viable. Used as a gas it has an immediate effect, causing respiratory paralysis and almost immediate death, particularly in confined spaces such as a room.
Cyanide can be extracted from a number of plants such as apples, plums, peaches and apricots through leaves and seeds. A process involving grinding the seeds and heating them followed by several refinements will produce cyanide. A Porton Down expert said he was unable to acquire the necessary 10,000 wild apricot kernels.
All the recipes could be made using basic equipment found at Wood Green, including a grinder, mortar and pestle, a bottle of acetone, castor beans and apple seeds, a funnel, blotting paper, thermometers and scales, the court heard.
Nigel Sweeney, QC, prosecuting, said the deadliest of all the five toxins, rotten meat poison, was, fortunately, the most difficult to make. It is produced from rotten meat and excrement and produces a botulinum toxin – “the most toxic substance known to man”.
Botulinum toxin can be delivered in food or drink. Research has showed one gram can kill 80,000 people.
Explosives experts also confirmed to the court that instructions for bombs found at the flat were blueprints for viable devices.
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Preventing Poisoning Exposures
- If you have small children or curious pets, consider removing toxic plants from your garden and house. House plants should be placed out of reach of the very young.
- Teach children not to put any part of a plant in the mouth. This means leaves, stems, bark, seeds, nuts, berries, and bulbs. Do not allow children to suck nectar from flowers or make “tea” from the leaves. Never chew, or let children chew, on jewelry made from seeds or beans.
Handling Toxic Plants
Store labeled bulbs and seeds safely away from children, pets, and food-storage areas. Avoid confusing bulbs with edible onions.
Use protective gloves and clothing when handling plants that may be irritating to the skin. Wash clothes afterwards.
Discard plant leaves and flowers in a safe way so that children and pets cannot get to them.
Smoke from fires made of twigs and other parts of poisonous plants, including poison oak, can irritate or harm the eyes, throat, and other parts of the body.
- Do not eat plants or mushrooms collected outdoors unless you are certain they are safe.
The Alnwick Garden is one of north England’s most beautiful attractions, where acres of colorful plants invite visitors to wander through rows of fragrant roses, manicured topiaries and cascading fountains. But within Alnwick’s boundaries, kept behind black iron gates, is a place where visitors are explicitly told not to stop and smell the flowers: the Poison Garden, home to 100 infamous killers.
In 1995, Jane Percy became the Duchess of Northumberland, a county in northeastern England that stretches to the border with Scotland, after her husband’s brother died unexpectedly. With the title came the Alnwick Castle, the traditional seat of the Duke of Northumberland (it also served as the setting for Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films). After the family took up residence in the castle, Percy’s husband asked her to do something with the gardens, which at the time were a disused commercial forestry boasting nothing more than rows and rows of Christmas trees.
“I think he thought, ‘That will keep her quiet, she’ll just plant a few roses and that’ll be it,'” the duchess says. But Percy did more than plant a few roses. In 1996, she hired Jacques Wirtz, a landscape architect who has worked with the Tuileries in Paris and the gardens of the French president’s residence, to help reimagine the Alnwick Garden. Today, the gardens encompass 14 acres and attract over 600,000 visitors each year, making them one of North England’s most popular tourist attractions.
“I realized I could do something really great if I had the right team,”says the duchess. But she knew she needed more than a good team—she needed something to set her project apart from the other gardens that dot the English countryside. “If you’re building something, especially a visitor attraction, it needs to be something really unique,” she says. “One of the things I hate in this day and age is the standardization of everything. I thought, ‘Let’s try and do something really different.'”
The duchess thought she might want to include an apothecary garden, but a trip to Italy set her on a slightly different course. After visiting the infamous Medici poison garden, the duchess became enthralled with the idea of creating a garden of plants that could kill instead of heal. Another trip—this one to the archeological site of the largest hospital in medieval Scotland, where the duchess learned about soporific sponges soaked in henbane, opium and hemlock used to anesthetize amputees during 15th-century surgeries—reinforced her interest in creating a garden of lethal plants.
“I thought, ‘This is a way to interest children,'” she says. “Children don’t care that aspirin comes from a bark of a tree. What’s really interesting is to know how a plant kills you, and how the patient dies, and what you feel like before you die.”
So the duchess set about collecting poisonous plants for her envisioned Poison Garden. While selecting the 100 varieties that would eventually take root there, she had only one steadfast requirement: the plants had to tell a good story. This meant that exotic killers like South America’s Brugmansia* would mingle with more common poisons, such as laurel hedges.
“What’s extraordinary about the plants is that it’s the most common ones that people don’t know are killers,” the duchess says. Visitors are often surprised to learn that the laurel hedge, nearly ubiquitous in English gardens, can be highly toxic. But some visitors have had experience with laurel’s sinister side—the duchess has heard a few talk about how, after loading up their cars with pruned laurel leaves to take to the dump, drivers have fallen asleep behind the wheel of their car from the toxic fumes the branches emit.
Because of the plants’ dangerous qualities, visitors to the Poison Garden are prohibited from smelling, touching or tasting any of them. Still, even with guidelines in place, visitors can fall victim to the plants. This past summer, seven people reportedly fainted from inhaling toxic fumes while walking through the garden. “People think we’re being overdramatic when we talk about , but I’ve seen the health and safety reports,” the duchess says.
As part of the Poison Garden’s educational mission, the duchess grows a variety of drugs, from cannabis to cocaine (derived from the leaves of the coca plant), which she and garden guides use as a jumping-off point for drug education. “It’s a way of educating children without having them realize they’re being educated,” she says.
Other poisonous plants might be less well-known to visitors, but are no less potent. One of the duchess’s favorite plants is Brugmansia, or angel’s trumpet, a member of the Solanaceae family (which includes deadly nightshade) that grows in the wild in South America. “It’s an amazing aphrodisiac before it kills you,” she says, explaining that Victorian ladies would often keep a flower from the plant on their card tables and add small amounts of its pollen to their tea to incite an LSD-like trip. ” is an amazing way to die because it’s quite pain-free,” the duchess says. “A great killer is usually an incredible aphrodisiac.”
Whether a plant kills with pleasure or with pain, visitors can count on walking away from the Poison Garden with an entertaining anecdote. “Most plants that kill are quite interesting,” says the duchess.
*Correction: The original sentence confused Brugmansia, which is native to South America, with belladonna, which is native to Europe.
Plants For A Poison Garden: Tips For Creating A Poison Garden
If you’ve read my book The Garden Crypt, then you know all about my fondness towards unusual things in the garden. Well, creating a poison garden is something that’s right up my alley. Before some of you get alarmed, let me make one thing clear – this type of garden is NOT to be used for malicious purposes and by all means, if you have pets or small children, DO NOT attempt to grow a toxic plant garden! With that said, those who are interested in this unique garden space, read on to learn more.
How to Create a Poison Garden
Creating a poison garden need not be so morbidly named or crafted. Make it your own, like you would for a recipe. Put your favorite “toxic” herbs in a corner of the landscape…fenced off from other more tradition plants. Showcase old-world specimens with a long history surrounded in lore. Choose commonly seen plants once found in a witch’s garden. Likewise, you might want to stick with everyday toxic garden plants. Yes, there are more than you might think. In fact, many commonly grown plants are actually poisonous in some fashion.
As with any garden design, there are certain to be various ways to create a toxic plant garden, and this is what makes gardening so fun. No one garden is exactly the same. Feel free to put your own spin on it, but just to keep things safe, it never hurts to heed a few helpful tips along the way. So as you’re creating a poison garden in your landscape, you may want to take these ideas into consideration:
- Keep the area separate. These gardens aren’t the friendliest so it’s a good idea to locate yours out of the way from other friendlier areas. For instance, the backyard or somewhere off to the side and out of sight from others is a good starting place. Even better, you may want to fence off your toxic plant garden, not only to keep the area more obscure but to help keep others out.
- Do your homework. This means research the plants for a poison garden prior to planting. You want to know not only how to care for them appropriately, but you also want to choose plants that are suitable to and will thrive in your growing space. They should be compatible with other plants in the garden as well. You may even want to choose a particular theme for your poison garden plants, like dark plants, be it those that are dark in color or plants with a dark past. Maybe you’d rather have something a little more uplifting, preferring to stick with common garden plants that are toxic in nature. Regardless, learn more about me before adding these to the garden.
- Be responsible. This should be obvious, but if you have a hidden agenda in mind when thinking about planting a poison garden, stop now. This should only be meant as a fun, yet different, type of garden space and not one that is menacing or aims at harming others… or even yourself. And please handle all of these toxic garden plants with extreme care, wearing gloves when planting or maintaining the garden.
- Keep it safe. Since you want to keep this area as safe as possible, install signs around the garden or on the fence itself (should you have one) so that others will know this is not an area meant for exploration. It can also add to its overall ominous effect with things like DO NOT ENTER, KEEP OUT, PRIVATE PROPERTY, WRONG WAY, etc. Also, be sure to label the plants as toxic, including each one so you don’t forget what plant is what.
Plants for a Poison Garden
Now that you have a few ideas to help get you started, it’s time to choose some plants for the poison garden theme. Since, in reality, it could be argued that most plants in some way or other have toxic properties, it would be impossible to name them all.
Even the plants we do have listed below are poisonous in varying levels and in different ways. Some may be toxic if you ingest the leaves, while others are toxic if you eat the roots. Some may simply make you very sick if you eat the poinsonous parts while others can cause death. None of the plants we have listed are deadly poisonous simply by touch, though a few can leave a nasty rash if you touch the leaves or sap with your bare skin. That being said, here are some toxic garden plants that will fit right in, some well-known and others with an interesting history:
- Autumn crocus
- Black walnut
- Bouncing bet
- Castor bean plant
- Corn cockle
- Deadly nightshade
- Elephant ear
- Gloriosa lily
- Horse chestnut
- Lantana berries
- Lily of the valley
- Poison hemlock
- Rhubarb leaves
- Sago palm
- St. John’s wort
Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before adding any of these plants to a garden, research them carefully and ALWAYS handle toxic plants appropriately. NEVER plant these in areas frequented by animals or children.