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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Scopolia carniolica

This sinister plant, Scopolia carniolica, has been lurking in the undergrowth in my garden for several years, slowly spreading via underground stems. The dried-blood coloured flowers, which look as though their tubular corolla has been snipped neatly across with scissors, are not particular notable but it’s the chemical constituents in the plant that are interesting. Scopolia, like many other members of the potato family, is notorious for possessing a wide range of highly poisonous alkaloids. In terms of toxicity, this plant is almost in the same league as deadly nightshade but one particular alkaloid, scopolamine, has given it notoriety. Used in minute doses this compound has been used to treat travel sickness, usually administered in patches that allow it to be slowly absorbed through the skin. At higher doses it’s lethal, but at some point before that delirium and hallucinations set in. Legend has it that witches made a magical ointment from the plant that produced hallucinations of flying when they smeared it on their skin, presumably just before mounting their broomsticks. More recently scopolamine has been tested as a ‘truth drug’ and has often features in spy thrillers..... you know the scenario.....”Ah, so, Mr. Bond, we meet again ..... and this time there will be no secrets’ll tell us everything.... now, you’ll just feel a small prick.... etc. etc.”