Sunday, 10 July 2011


It is about time I got around to writing this one.

I am not a botanist by training, interest yes in the sense I am a nerd for natural history as a whole, though palaeontology has been what has turned me on most. So ending up working on taxonomy projects in the herbarium at Kew has certainly been... different. The first family I have been working on is the Rosaceae (a bloody huge family) and fortuitously the first two big genera (some small ones in between) have been Prunus (plums, cherries, peaches and all their wild relatives) and Rubus (brambles, raspberries and the other cane fruits). I have spent probably 6-8 weeks on each of these genera and spent my time looking at specimens from all over the world and dozens of species of each – in both cases developing a much greater understanding of each and a kind of 'closeness' I didn’t expect. I simply can't walk past wild brambles and blackberries these days without acknowledging what they are. Normally I am interested in them in the sense of knowing they will be providing me food at some point in the future, now though it is as if I have come to know them in some way more than I have before and am on the edge of something else in a relationship with them. I think I know what comes next so will have to keep you updated.

The next family I will be working on will be the Passifloraceae; passion flowers and the like. Something I know has ethnogenic use. I know where there is a good source of Passiflora and so will be making some forays into the magical and ethnobotanical use of this plant.

Which leads me to the main bulk of this blogasm; the Solanaceae. This is another family I have an acquaintance with and have been quick to put my name down for when this family comes up to work on. It is such an odd family; on one have we have some of our most well know agricultural crops; potatoes, tomatoes, peppers etc and on the other we have Henbane, the Nightshades and Mandrake; all with very different potential to their family.

I have had some luck growing Mandrake in the past and have seeds to have another go this autumn, likewise Henbane. I also have datura seeds and a nice supply of woody nightshade which will be gracing the back garden next spring. Now that I have a garden again and am unlikely to be moving house in the near future I want to have something of a collection of interesting plants; interesting not only because they can be smoked/rubbed on, but also because of their associations and looks. Woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara ) has some seriously pretty flowers and the greatest 'eat me' berries out there (don’t, obviously). Birds eat and spread the seed with impunity but to humans the effects of eating the berries can be disastrous though not as bad as eating the leaves which contain far more of the active toxin Solanine.

Beyond the botanical interest and the aesthetic interest in this family I am also interested in the magical aspect of working with them. Henbane especially as it seems that the associations with Belenus are not as iffy as I originally thought. Considering that Lugus-Belenus is a deity with whom I am actively working on developing a devotional relationship with this plant is going to be interesting. Obviously now that I want to find the reference I cant... if I recall correctly Henbane was known in Gaulish as the 'herb of Belenus' (Belinimica I think it was), in much the same way as it was known as Apollo's oracular herb. The logic in my mind is to experiment with burning Henbane on charcoal and see what it effects may be.

Does this seems a bit mental? A bit too drug happy?

Maybe it does. I have a rather relaxed attitude to most drugs; I have tried everything I was offered (bar the filthy stuff like heroin or meth obviously) and can see the value in them for various purposes. I haven’t taken anything other than alcohol in a number of years and have safety in mind for when these experiments get going; start small and make sure someone is about who knows what I am doing should it all go tits up.

So anyway, I have dug out some of my old books from the boxes and been poring over them again familiarising myself with that information I will need and how best to approach these plants.

I am beginning to ramble a bit now.. it is getting late. Suffice to say that a working relationship with various plants is on the cards either as a result of direct intention or a side effect of my work.

Those brambles keep calling... asking to be brought home... telling me 'they will get what they want and fuck anyone who gets in their way'.

The dog rose in the garden wants to be a bridle; wrapped about the skull of Mary, it wants to work there, to be there to help to draw blood depending on who has a mind to seize hold of the reigns of Rigantona.


Chas said...

Henbane is easy to grow, but the daturas, in my experience, like for the soil to be nice and hot before they germinate.

Lee said...

Thanks Chas - will bear that in mind for when i have start sowing. I am looking forward to the henbane more than anything this year - it seems to be the one with most promise.

Heronmist said...

Don't know of any Gaulish links, but apparently Henbane was used by the Assyrians, who placed it on door hinges"to prevent sorcery from entering".
Or there's this, from the medieval 'Stockholm Mss': "Of all the herbs that grow in the ground/Wicked spirits it will wound/Being powerful and fierce/Against all necromancers".
The early herbalists used it for toothache.

Katherine said...

You can make a beer out of henbane, actually alot of what you mentioned can be brewed with. May be worth a shot for you if you are using them in part to do with deity.