When the publication of this book was announced, I got excited. Yet another book to add to my collection on poisonous plants! In addition, Ms. Draco is a respected author in the occult world.
Once through this small book (a whopping 96 pages), I was both pleased and disappointed.
The pleased: She gives a very nice history of poisoning, detailing instances from Socrates’ famed ingestion of hemlock, through the times of the Roman Empire, to the Borgias and de’ Medicis of the Renaissance, poisonous intrigue in the English courts, and finishing with various accounts of poisonings in the 18th century (which, naturally, were mostly perpetrated by women 😉 ).
An entire chapter was devoted to the “Proving Tree”, which was a “metal stand (often attached to the salt dish) that had from five to fifteen different ‘stone’ pendants hanging from its branches.” For a few centuries, it was thought that dipping one stone or another into food would either detect or neutralize any poison found in food. Servants would have been a part of that “Proving Tree” because several would taste their master’s food before it even got to him.
The final chapter, “Cursing v Bottling”, was useful. She goes to great lengths to discourage someone from cursing which, in a book for public consumption, is a good thing. A milder retaliation is bottling and she’s got some good ideas in there.
The disappointment: the listing of the plants themselves. While the information presented is, for the most part, accurate, only a chemistry buff would be interested in the list of toxic chemicals in each plant. I’m used to reading scientific papers and I found my eyelids drooping at points. Foot- or endnotes would have made reading easier, rather than citing sources within the text.
It’s obvious this book wasn’t reviewed by someone who is an herbalist prior to publication. One example: she cites “Margaret Grieve” as the author of A Modern Herbal (Chapter 3). The initial “M” stands for Maud.
Another: she lists “Bryony black and white” as Bryonia dioica. B. dioica is red (or sometimes white) bryony, while white is B. alba. Black bryony is in another genus (Dioscorea) altogether, although no less toxic.
And one final nitpicking: all but one of the Latin binomials are in lower case, sometimes without the species name attached (making it a monomial). In case you didn’t know, the genus is always capitalized, the species not. If all species in a genus are considered, then ‘spp.’ should be after the genus.
So, I’ll give this 3.5 stars of 5. It presented a lot of good information on poisonous herbs but there are other books out there that present it better (a couple she used for reference and cited in the bibliography would be a good start). Buy it for the history lesson and how to bottle rather than curse.