Name: Mezereon (Daphne mezerem)
Otherwise known as: Dwarf Bay, Mezerie Cortex
Habitat: A perennial shrub member of the Thymelaeceae family growing up to 2.5m in moist woodland and native to Asiatic Russia and Europe. The plant forms grey/green lanceolate leaves at the end of its stems that enclose clusters of highly-aromatic purple flowers that transform into bright red, olive size berries. The bark is malodorous and all parts of the plant poisonous.
What does it do: The plant contains some highly toxic compounds such as mezerein, daphnetoxin, mezeen, euphorbone and mezereic acid. From early times, herbalists working on the philosophy that if it didn’t kill you, it could cure you. Therefore the plant was popular in the treatment of syphilis, tuberculosis, chronic rheumatism, psoriasis, tinea capitis (fungal infection of the scalp), and extremely popular as a vermifuge. Russian physicians claimed it had few rivals in the successful treatment of snake and spider bite. Deer herders painted the hooves of their horses to prevent splitting.
In Victorian England a patent medicine was made from the resin to shrink varicose veins and sliced root was recommended as a relief from dental abscesses – very risky practice.
Some examination of the emerging homeopathic treatment reveals some well-documented cases such as a using Mezereon to restore hearing to a boy who had been deaf for nine years, and a most dramatic case of a sea captain cured of a disfiguring nasal tumour after a course of using tincture of Mezereon.
Some Asian universities are experimenting with extracts from the plant to treat leukaemia and breast cancer.
Alexander McCowan is the author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants