Halloween approaches, and as the harvest moon casts an eerie pall over the land, our thoughts turn to all things dastardly and mysterious. The days are becoming shorter, the skies darken, and the wind kicks up, pulling the dead, wet leaves to the ground. As trees creak and groan and things go BUMP in the night, it’s the time when the Dark Garden Flourishes.
Pale skin? Dilated pupils? That was the beauty of another age when women poured the decocted juice from Atropa Belladonna into their eyes. But this was dangerous business indeed. While that fragile, flight-or-fight appearance was de rigueur, it was also the epitome of toxic cosmetics. The wives of Emperor Augustus and Claudius used Deadly Nightshade to pluck and to poison their foes. All parts of this shade loving plant are potently lethal – the roots, the temptingly sweet, shiny black berries and even the leaves.
Monk’s Hood lurks in the shade, it’s pretty blue flowers a perfect disguise for danger. One is well advised to be respectful of Aconite Aconitum napellus. When used in Chinese medicine, the bulbs are processed and steamed nine times, sliced and dried to remove the highly toxic alkaloids. But beware – If you accidentally steam them just six times… let’s just say Monk’s Hood will make heads roll!
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is not normally considered a shade-loving plant. But in my garden it flourishes in the sun and in the shade. I suspect that it curries favor with the Aconite and Belladonna because in large doses, its cardiac stimulants can be considered a poison, the pink bell-shaped blossoms ringing a death knell to careless partakers.
Lungwort, Pulmonaria officinalis, though perhaps not deadly, is gruesomely at home in the dark. Lungwort’s elongated leaves have little white spots that resemble a diseased lung. It grows next to its poisonous cousins in the shade garden, never suspecting that, potential toxic flavanoids, it’s merely an unsightly sidekick.
Why grow these hideous herbs, you query? Because, I answer, knowledgeably grown and harvested, they quietly bring balance to the plants that flourish in the sunlight. And treated with respect, these poisonous posies medicinally deliver a medicinal treat instead of a gruesome trick.