Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Mystery Writer's Guide to Forensic Science - Poisonous Plants I

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting information - for writers - on Poison Plants. This is meant for research only. Kids, don't test these poisons at home! I mean it!


Found naturally in various plants e.g. cherries, plums, almonds, peaches, apricots, apples and cassava. (The fruit and nuts itself are not poisonous.)

The chemical is usually concentrated in the seeds, kernels or wilted leaves. Eating these parts of the plant that contain the chemical can cause symptoms of cyanide poisoning.

Slow reacting poison unless in large quantities.

Symptoms: Headache - mild poisoning, Chest tightness - mild poisoning, Throat tightness - mild poisoning, Muscle weakness - mild poisoning, Neuropathy - chronic poisoning, Bluish skin, Bluish fingernails, Bluish lips, Droopy eyelids, Fever, Mental confusion, Liver damage, Diarrhea, Nausea, Vomiting, Abdominal pain, Dizziness, Lethargy, Dilated pupils, Spasms, Irregular breathing, Excitement and depression, Chills, Sweating, Visual disturbance, Breathing difficulty, Weakness, Cyanosis, Seizures, Coma, Death

# Konzo - Konzo is an epidemic paralytic disease first described by G. Trolli in 1938, who discovered it amongst the Kwango of the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). The outbreaks are associated with several weeks of almost exclusive consumption of insufficiently processed bitter cassava. The onset of paralysis (hypertonic paraparesis) is sudden and symmetrical and the resulting disability is permanent, but does not progress. The disease onset is associated to high dietary exposure from cyanide liberated from the naturally occurring glucosides that normally are removed by processing before consumption of cassava roots. "Konzo" means "bound legs" in the Yaka language and was the designation by the first affected population in Congo. The name, taken up by Hans Rosling, aptly describes the typical hypertonic gait of those afflicted.


Also known as: aconite, monkshood, wolfsbane, leopard's bane, women's bane, Devil's helmet or blue rocket

Where is it found: natives of the mountainous parts of the northern hemisphere, growing in moisture retentive but well draining soils on mountain meadows

The poison: alkaloid pseudaconitine

How it's administered: Skin and oral ingestion

Fast acting or slow: Marked symptoms may appear almost immediately, usually not later than one hour, and "with large doses death is almost instantaneous." Death usually occurs within 2 to 6 hours in fatal poisoning (20 to 40 mL of tincture may prove fatal).

Symptoms: The initial signs are gastrointestinal including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There is followed by a sensation of burning, tingling, and numbness in the mouth and face, and of burning in the abdomen. In severe poisonings pronounced motor weakness occurs and sensations of tingling and numbness spread to the limbs. Cardiovascular features include hypotension, bradycardia (slowed heart-rate), sinus tachycardia (rapid heart-rate), and ventricular arrhythmias (abnormal or irregular heart-rate). Other features may include sweating, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headache, and confusion. The main causes of death are ventricular arrhythmias and asystole (flatline), paralysis of the heart or of the respiratory center.

What's noticed in post-mortem? The only post-mortem signs are those of asphyxia.

Treatment:  Treatment of poisoning is mainly supportive. All patients require close monitoring of blood pressure and cardiac rhythm. Gastrointestinal decontamination with activated charcoal can be used if given within 1 hour of ingestion. The major physiological antidote is atropine, which is used to treat bradycardia. Other drugs used for ventricular arrhythmia include lidocaine, amiodarone, bretylium, flecainide, procainamide, and mexiletine. Cardiopulmonary bypass is used if symptoms are refractory to treatment with these drugs. Successful use of charcoal hemoperfusion has been claimed in patients with severe aconite poisoning.

Sources: Wikipedia


  1. my favourite poisonous plant would be mandrake or mandragora, not that I use it ... :)

  2. hmmn where do u get this info? this is so informative.
    You got an award on my blog today cos I think you are a star

  3. I'm currently using a poisonous plant in a WIP. Her's a good one to remember. The plant is called Spotted Water Hemlock (not to be confused with poisonous hemlock.) It grows in lowlands and moist areas. All parts are deadly poisonous but especially the oily substance in the stalk and root in the spring and summer. Some folks may know this plant as Cowbane because many cattle have been killed by eating just a small amount. Another common name for the plant is Poison Parsnips because the roots or tubars look like parsnips and the plant smells of carrots or parsnips.

    Humans have been killed in as little as fifteen minutes after eating just one bite of the plant. In my current WIP, the antagonist makes a concentrated form of this plant and puts it into the victim's drink.

    I must say though, the death is not pretty. It involves foaming at the mouth, convulsions, loss of bowel/blatter control, vomiting, nerve damage, coma, and death.

  4. How is it that I never realized you wrote mysteries? A kindred spirit at last!! :)

    This is a very interesting series!

  5. Again I'm amazed at your incredible knowledge of these things. What an awesome resource!

    Those plants sounds frightening to say the least (really? The kernel of some of those fruits are poisonous? Ugh...), so I'll do my best to stay away (with the possible exception of in writing).

  6. Clarissa - Wow! This is *great!* It's such a good reminder that with poisonous plants, each one might have different appearances, effects and so on. Really interesting and useful stuff! This post actually makes me think of Elizabeth George's Missing Joseph, in which a victim dies by poisoning from water hemlock...

  7. Ooh, interesting informations! :D

  8. Great stuff!
    Remind me never to go mountain hiking with you :)

  9. Great stuff!
    Remind me never to go mountain hiking with you :)

  10. Skin ingestion? Now that's a deadly flower.

  11. Interesting! Thanks, Clarissa. I have deadly nightshade (I think it's called, if memory serves) in one of my novels and it was loads of fun to research.

  12. I love to use poisonous plants...in my writing! I've written posts about Oleander, Colchicum and Goldenchain because they appear in my WIP.

  13. The Aconitum looks ever so pretty!!! How could such a pretty looking flower be so deadly?!?!?! Wow!! And it's weird that these everyday fruits and nuts contain a cyanide type chemical that if used by those in the now may produce poison. Yikes! Thanks for the info!!! Amazing as always!

    Take care

  14. love love love this! Thank you, dahling~ ;o)

    My only remaining questions would be--1-Are there tastes associated w/these? (I.e., Can they be hidden easily?) And 2-How long do they take to work?

    I think I've settled on arsenic, but alas. Her plan failed today. funky mood... :o\

  15. Oh, guys, thanks so much for the comments and LTM, those are great questions. I will do more research.

  16. I don't know much about poisonous plants at all--this was really informative!

    Great post!

  17. Great post! I look forward to reading about more poisonous plants. I've just read a couple of mysteries with poisonous mushrooms in them as well.

    It's interesting that even now in the modern era when there are so many synthetic poisons and drugs available, there's still something fascinating and sinister about lethal plants and fungi. I suppose it's a combination of their harmless appearance and their association with infamous murders throughout myths, literature and history dating back to classical times.

  18. Oh, I'm looking forward to this series! I love me some poison. I considered aconite for my last kill, but decided on conium instead:)

  19. Wow. Fascinating. I had no idea. I'm going to be extra nice to you, though...just to be safe *wink*

  20. Timely Clarissa, in my sequel to my high fantasy, a hero rises to the top, he is a doctor who has created a tea supplement to administer to pregnant women which prevent blood clots and saves them from dying in childbirth. What only he knows, is that he is possessed by the soul of a villain. I used many plants to enhance his powers and control or kill others.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  21. You are an oasis of information and I reference all of your posts, FYI.

    Thanks for doing my dirty work for me.

  22. What a good idea for a series of blogposts! I used to work in a Herbarium and we would get all sorts of samples sent in to identify and test for poisons.
    Plants make great weapons ;-)

  23. Ahhh...poisons! Thanks so much for this series, Clarissa! I love learning more about this stuff.

  24. I tend to love plots with poison in them ;)

    And I like that you introduce us to poisons which are accessible which means one can use them in a modern novel. As far as I know it is not that easy to buy arsenic, cyancalium etc legally today as it was fifty or hundred years ago.

  25. I enjoy your post. They are so informative. I love herbs and when I started trying to grow them, I was amazed how many of those are poisonous.

    Thoughts in Progress

  26. Lots of beneficial reading here, thank you! I had been searching on yahoo when I discovered your post, I’m going to add your feed to Google Reader, I look forward to additional from you.


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