Name: Thorn Apple (Datura stramonium)
Otherwise known as: Jimson Weed
Habitat: The plant is an annual member of the Solanaceae family, growing to about 2m in waste ground. A native to the Americas, it can now be found throughout Europe with spear-shaped leaves and brilliant white, trumpet flowers that grow in the axils and transform into the round, spiky, green seed pod that contains hundreds of brown, kidney-shaped seeds. The fleshy leaves are grey green and give off an unpleasant odour.
What does it do: This plant and its relatives have been associated with prophesy; it is thought that the Delphic Oracle consumed seeds before prophesying. The Inca priests administered it to sacrificial victims as well as using it as an aid to prophesy. It is thought to have been one of the earliest anaesthetics.
Third century BC physician Theophrastus wrote ‘If five seeds are given to a patient he becomes excited and thinks himself a fine fellow. Ten seeds leads to delusion; thirty, to permanent insanity, and forty, to death’.
Thorn Apple contains tropane alkaloids such as hyoscine, hyoscyamine and atropine. Anyone who has undergone surgery will have been given hyoscine in pre-med, it sedates the central nervous system and induces what is known as ‘twilight sleep’. Scopalomine; a derivative of hyoscine, was known as the ‘truth drug’ and administered to obtain confessions, thought to be very popular with the Gestapo.
The plant featured in witchcraft ceremonies, it was mixed with pig fat and rubbed into the groin and armpits and was thought to enable witches to fly. This was due to its powerful hallucinatory properties.
In Cyprus and the Mediterranean the leaf was dried and rolled into cylinder form and given to asthma suffers to smoke.
Herbalists still use low-dose remedies to treat asthma, whooping cough, gastro-intestinal, bronchial and urinary problems.
Chewing the flowers will relieve toothache.
It is a highly poisonous plant and should only be taken under strict medical supervision, the contra-indications are numerous.
If you see it leave it alone.