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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Saturday 31st March 2012

Once again, a piece of plant folklore turns out to be completely untrue. Pulsatilla vulgaris, the pasque flower, is said to flower on Good Friday though I haven’t been able to determine why that is said. It may be that the flower closes up at the end of the day and was, therefore, covering its face at the sight of Jesus Christ crucified.

I’ve noticed before that it doesn’t always obey its own folklore and, on a visit to a friend’s, I saw it in full bloom a good eight days before Good Friday.

Pulsatilla vulgaris, the pasque flower

Pulsatilla vulgaris, the pasque flower

I did think about saving these pictures for the Good Friday blog entry but realised that this would leave it open for people to dispute my claim about the pictures being taken on 29th March and retain their belief in the folklore.

There are a lot of beliefs about plants that have been shown to be scientifically untrue and, yet, people still cling to them. When trying to find the basis for the Good Friday belief, I came across a website where the author talks about the planetary connection between Pulsatilla vulgaris and Mercury and says that he disagrees with those who say this is a plant of Mars.

One of the reasons I don’t refer to Culpepper’s herbal is that it is full of the planetary associations of plants. There is, of course, no scientific basis for such associations but there are still people who believe them to occur.

I don’t sneer at our ancestors’ beliefs; rather I try and rationalise them based on the state of knowledge at the time. The idea that a plant looked like the condition it could be used to treat, which was given the name Doctrine of Signatures in the 16th century though the belief itself dates from ancient Greece, at least, resulted from the view that the human race was at the centre of creation and that everything in the world was subsidiary to humans and there to offer service.

Pulsatilla vulgaris, the pasque flower

Our improved understanding of evolution means we no longer take such an arrogant view of the role of other species and we can see that the Doctrine of Signatures has no scientific basis. Yet, you can still find people who believe in it and, worryingly, use it as the basis for prescribing herbal remedies.

I set out, today, to write a simple little story about a strangely attractive plant after three days writing about drugs but I’ve realised that there is a connection between the Pulsatilla vulgaris NOT flowering on Good Friday and some of the things I’ve been reading in order to write those three blog entries.

For example, Mary Brett is not the only person who clings to the disproved COMT gene theory of cannabis and ignores all the later work. And, as I’ve written before, Kathy Gyngell has claimed to be quoting the latest research when, in fact, later work exists discrediting her position.

And the media, generally, offers plenty of examples. It continues to talk about deaths from mephedrone which were found to be caused by something else, persists in saying that Leah Betts' death was caused by ecstasy and, in a different subject area, persistently refers to the 2003 'ricin plot'


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