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The Most Wicked Plant of All

Red Room's first book for its staff book club was Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart and I absolutely loved it. It was a pleasure to read this book. There was so much fun information in the book and the presentation of it was charming, as well. One element of the design that I particularly liked was that the paper is an aged off-white, almost a light brown, which made it look like you could take it into the garden with you to check if a plant was safe, even with dirty hands from gardening, without having to worry about the pages getting smudged. The book cover has a look of Victoriana, and it even has a little ribbon placeholder.

There is a long tradition of gardening in my family. I had my hands in the dirt at a very young age. My mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all made sure that I gardened with them, and they all loved taking me for walks in nature. During those walks they told me stories about which plants were safe and which plants to avoid. This connection to the earth and to plants has always made me feel safe in nature.

When I walk down the front steps of our home each morning I'm greeted by the mint, oregano, anise, and rosemary that I planted about a year ago, with my mom. She made a special trip over to San Francisco to garden with me now that I have my own garden. I tend to cultivate plants that are, well, friendly and delicious. These are definitely not wicked plants. At least I was sure of that until a recent visit to the health food store a few blocks between our home and our office. One of the owners, without prompting, informed me that in his culture, mint is thought to be bad "for men, you know, for...you know," if a man eats too much of it. My wife and I were very amused. Maybe Amy should include mint in the next edition of the book.

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"...long tradition of gardening..."

Dear Abraham:

I really appreciate the thoughtful family gardening picture you painted here; plus the mint and men issue - all in reflection of Amy Stewart's "Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities."

With very good wishes:


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Poisonous Plants

I'm ecstatic to find this post about Amy Stewart's book. I was unaware of her book. I will buy it today. What did Lincoln's mother eat? Uncooked red elderberries? Castor Beans? Did she drink the water from a vase filled with Lily-of-the-valley?

'Pretty But Poisonous Plants' is a lecture I give as a speaker for the University of Missouri Extension. I became fascinated by this subject as a Horticultural Therapist and Master Gardener.

In 2007, plants ranked 9th in the top 25 substances frequently involved in human poison exposure. Among adults, plant poisoning occurs more than two times the rate of alcohol and drug poisoning.

More people are poisoned by plants on an annual basis (According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers) than chemicals, hydrocarbons, stimulants, street drugs, fumes, gases. sedatives and pesticides.

In Sri Lanka, several thousand people intentionally ingest Yellow Oleander seeds as a means of suicide. Twenty percent die. Oleander and Paraquet account for 74% of the deaths of persons under age 25.

If you're still with me, I recommend the Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants by Lewis S. Nelson, M.D., Richard Shih, M.D. and Michael J. Balick, Ph.D.