Herbs to Kill or Heal? Was this 17th Century Faux-Book for a Poisoner or Apothecary?

Secret Stash of Lethal Poisons Hidden in 17th Century Book. Was This Really an Assassin's Cabinet?

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In Macbeth, Macbeth of Scotland betrays a truce and poisons the invading English army with Deadly Nightshade. The moniker Bella Donna (‘beautiful women’) comes from the ancient practice of using an extract of the plant as eye drops to make the pupils dilate (a fashion thought to make women more seductive); prolonged usage leads to blindness. For centuries it has been used as a pain reliever and a muscle relaxer. Since the 1800s, it was used to induce ‘twilight sleep’ for women in labor – a semi-narcotic state characterized by insensitivity to pain without the loss of consciousness (which can happen with morphine). This tactic was used by Queen Victoria. Today, it is used to treat motion sickness.

Atropa bella-donna L.

Atropa bella-donna L. ( Public Domain )

After reviewing the contents of the cabinet, one cannot help but think that its original owner used the contents to both save and end lives, perhaps depending on the clients’ requests.

Top Image: Was this 17th century faux-book made for a poisoner or apothecary? (deriv.) Source: BookAddiction

By Kerry Sullivan


BBC News. "Gardener Nathan Greenway 'died after Handling Deadly Plant'."  BBC News . BBC, 07 Nov. 2014. Web. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-29949698

Bookaddictuk. "A Book of Poison or Medieval Cures?"  Book of the Week . BookAddiction, 16 Nov. 2014. Web. https://bookaddictionuk.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/a-book-of-poison-or-medieval-cures-book-of-the-week/

Halloween, Eva. "Let Dead Lips Congregate: Vintage Poisoner’s Cabinet."  The Year of Halloween . The Year of Halloween, 10 Sept. 2013. Web. https://theyearofhalloween.com/2013/09/10/let-dead-lips-congregate-vintage-poisoners-cabinet/

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