Researching that book launched my interest in poison plants. Since my husband and I have both been gardeners all our lives, this year I’m finally going to take that interest a step further: Plant a poison garden at our forest cabin.
I’ve been thinking about how to decorate the garden. We were gifted a length of black wrought-iron fencing a friend for their dog and no longer needed, which is tall enough to keep out curious critters and pets.
My Hecate statue will now reside there, along with some mementos of the Goddess Aradia, who is known to poison her enemies.
I’m repurposing some of my apothecary bottles and an old stool, painting it with runes and witchcraft symbols. Wind chimes, of course, at each corner.
In other words, creating a poison garden need not be morbid. I’m going to have fun with it.
I’m growing all my plants from seedlings or seeds, starting them indoors under a grow light, and studying them as they mature so I can recognize each plant in its stages of growth.
Please keep in mind that these plants are potentially dangerous. Don’t ever handle them without gloves, keep them away from pets, wildlife and children, and never take them internally.
In truth, many plants are toxic, and the difference between a poison, a medicine, and a narcotic is often only one of dosage. Digitalis, for example, in proper doses, represents one of our most useful and widely prescribed cardiac medicines. Yet, in higher doses it is a deadly poison. But let’s leave all treatment to the medical professionals. Always treat toxic plants will full respect.
Datura is a gothic garden plant with a capital G, part of a trio of plants known as the Weird Sisters of the witch’s garden—Datura, Henbane, Belladonna, with a side of Mandrake. These plants all contain the tropane alkaloids, which is why I’ve grouped them together.
Datura is a lovely flowering plant with large trumpet-shaped blooms that open upwards toward the sun. Color ranges from white to pinkish purple, and more rarely, red or yellow. It is often confused with brugmansia, which is commonly called angel’s trumpet. However the trumpet-shaped blooms of brugmansia hang down, while Datura blooms face up.
Hardy in zones 7-12. Full sun. Herbaceous annual or perennial. Flourishes in disturbed soil and requires little water. The Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii) can sprawl up to 15 feet wide.
Datura is found throughout most of North America and is common in the Southwest. It grows to 2-3’ and in spring produces striking six inch long trumpet-shaped blooms that close at night. The flowers are sweetly fragrant. It uses its scent to attract night-time pollinators like sphinx or hawk moths.
A datura’s fruit is about the size of a small egg, pale green, and covered in thorns. When they ripen in the fall, these pods turn brown and split open, releasing seeds. The pods can be harvested just before they split, or you can put pantyhose around the seed pod to catch ripe seeds when the pod splits. Seeds are then dried and stored in an envelope or paper bag in a cool dry location until spring planting.
Datura contains several alkaloids classified as tropanes. They can cause symptoms such as headache, vomiting, coma and death if ingested, and all parts of the plant can cause skin irritations at the least.
Wear gloves and use safety precautions at all times, especially when handling the seeds, which contain the highest concentration of alkaloids.
Medical – Although the plant is used in Ayurvedic plant-based medicine, I am recommending against trying this on your own.
Poisonous Effects – Dry mouth, intense thirst, increased heart rate, blurred vision, loss of motor coordination, coma, and death by respiratory failure. Prolonged and repeated psychosis after ingestion.
Magical Uses – Shamanic. Visions, protection, breaking hexes, shape-shifting. Old-time flying ointment. The emptied fruit seed pod can be used as an imprisoning capsule for items related to the target of a binding spell, but stuffing it with hair or bits of thread from clothing.
Datura is a strong hallucinogen than peyote, psilocybin, or LSD, but it’s also more toxic. What’s unique about the hallucinations caused by tropane alkaloids is that they often have ferocious and sinister content, featuring threatening creatures and frightening scenes, as well as feelings of doom and paranoia. It’s not unusual for people under their influence to believe they are being transformed into animals with claws and fur, which is interesting in the case of Datura, because it is utilized by wolf shamans.
Datura has long been connected to the worship of Shiva, the Indian goddess associated with the creative and destructive aspects of the universe. She is also a plant of Goddess Hecate and God Hades. The plant is often found in the Himalayas on altars to the gods of the mountains. It can also be used as a bridge for approaching some of the darker goddesses, Kali in particular.
It has been employed as a sacred hallucinogen in Mexico and the American Southwest, where it often grows wild on the roadside. The wolf shamans of the Huichol use either Peyote or Datura in their vision quests. Xolotl, the Aztec guide to the Underworld, is manifested as a black dog whose name is the Zapotec word for Datura. One of the symptoms to tropane alkaloids, the dilating of the pupils and subsequent ability to see better at night, is similar to the vision of wolves and coyotes. The Huichol wolf shamans use Datura only once, in a vision quest after a long five-year apprenticeship in shapeshifting to become a werewolf.
Datura is a sacred plant and should be treated as such. It is one of the substances used in traditional witchcraft and shamanic “Flying Ointments,” along with henbane, aconite and hemlock. It is believed that poisonous herbs like the above can sever the soul (the astral body) from the corporal body. Thus, it is able to fly into the astral world behind the world of external appearances.
Please do not buy these plants and concoct your own recipe without extensive study. Datura is incredibly powerful, magically speaking, and has a strong will. Some say she’s a plant that behaves exactly like a woman. She does what she wants when she wants. If you handle her with the utmost respect and care, and learn everything you can about her, she can become a powerful ally.
Until then, find a task you love and do it with vigor!