Monday, 30 November 2015

the need to know

unless you know what it is
unless you know what it is, it's legal and it isn't going to make you sick.

during a class last week at the Beautiful Silks Botanical Studio somebody asked the question
"what does oleander do?"

which reminded me that when i pootled across the ranges to Rockford in the Barossa Valley earlier in the month to pick up bottles of assorted nectars (with which to enhance the lunches at Mansfield) i drove past a group of young gentlemen assiduously stripping flowers from a huge Oleander (Nerium oleander). it occurred to me about a 100 metres later that they had bare hands. 
so i did the grandmotherly thing, made a u-turn and went back. 

poor things, they thought i'd come to give them a talking-to for stealing flowers. not so. but i DID give them a talking-to about health and safety.

they had no idea of the name of the plant, or that it was poisonous.
so i told them. 
i also suggested they would want to wash their hands before consuming their next meal (or rubbing their eyes)
their plan was to scatter the flowers at a wedding...but if i were the bride i wouldn't want bushels of  toxic plant matter tossed at me.
i'd also be concerned about small children picking up the flowers and putting them in their mouths. as small children so often do.

i tell my students time and time again "identify the plant, at very least by genus, before gathering". because it's just common sense.

somebody told me in the USA years ago how she and a friend had been hospitalized with anaphylaxis after lifting the lid on a pot full of boiling poison ivy. the genus name Toxicodendron tells me to stay well away from that one. i was so stunned by the story that

i completely forgot to ask "and what colour did it dye?"

so what DOES oleander do? i have no idea. and i don't plan to put it in a dyepot because even the smoke from burning oleander is poisonous.

while i'm on the subject
there have been a spate of images of "ecoprints" from castor oil plant leaves floating about the internet. call me old Mrs Unadventurous if you like, but i would be a bit nervous about bundling leaves from the plant whose derivative was used to kill Georgi Markov. admittedly using it in a dye bundle may not get the stuff into your bloodstream (which is where it is most effective) but there's very little research about the effects of inhaling steam from boiling such bundles.
once cloth is rinsed and dried it won't be a longterm poisoning device (unless you were to soak it in a poison before offering it for use, not a pleasant thought).

so given about 80% of ornamentals in suburban gardens are poisonous in one way or another, i recommend caution.

simple errors like confusing colchicums for crocus and hemlock for angelica have led to tears before bedtime in the past.

i'm not scare-mongering, i just think it's important to know what you're dealing with.

one of the reasons that green became the colour of bad luck in the theatre was that actors who regularly wore green costumes became sick and eventually died...if the colour green in the cloth was dependent on the presence of orpiment (arsenic trisulphide)
they may not have known why, just that you became ill if you wore green.

but that's another story.

ps thank you everybody who offered a word (or two) in response to the previous post...i'll be working with those words and shall hope to find them some friends soon


  1. I agree India, with a botanist for a father it was drummed I to us about are with plants as so many are poisonous, I lost what hair I had at 2 eating the lovely fruit of a garden plant, deadly nightshade family I think, and eating the yellow stamens of the white arum lily aged was not pleasant either.

  2. sorry if some of that doesn't make sense my tablet takes over, think you can work it out, basically that so many plants are not good for us one way or another.

  3. totally agree read up first plus the fact that reading about the SAFE plant matter gives you another plus to your knowledge

  4. I'm very thankful you care enough for the health of your fellow humans to even bother explaining. From what I read online, the quest for the almighty 'ecoprint' has never been stronger and caution is being blown to the four winds in the determination to acquire stronger, bolder prints. Makes the hairs on the back of me neck stand up !

    Ronnie wrote this on your f'book page and I think it's spot on so I'd like to copy it here: "I find cavalier attitudes toward things like this really frightening .... we seem happier to shoot the messenger than get educated."

    1. exactly so. and thank you for sharing Ronnie's contribution

  5. Oh, Oleander and castor oil!! even I know they are very nasty :( and am not any sort of botanist .... I found Stella who comes from Tanzania eating Viburnum opulus berries in my garden, and offering them to the dog, who sensibly turned them down ... they must only be mildly poisonous because they had no effect, and Stella only ate a couple, I think. but same dog hungrily eating hawthorn berries from cut branches caused a passing (knowledgeable) friend to wag his head and tell me they would be very bad for her when in fact they are recommended for older and working dogs as a heart tonic. my point? well er ... plants are full of things that we should look up before handdling/eating/dyeing with them I suppose, and I agree whole heartedly with you India!

    1. it is good to be informed...and even when informed, to bear in mind the words of the immortal Joan Collins
      "a LITTLE of what you fancy does you good"

  6. excellent post - I find it really disturbing that there are so many blog posts, articles and books with such an off-hand attitude to safety when it comes to plants and, as you pointed out a few weeks ago, rust. "Natural" does not mean "safe".

  7. agree totally with all above. i had an acquaintance who burned the poison ivy in his yard. he became quite ill. he was a nasty man, but still...

  8. "Some people should dye, that's just unconscious knowledge." Janes Addiction

  9. poison ivy grows everywhere here. right up into the trees. I find it lovely just to look at. And it makes a lovely fence. Thank you for your expertise as always.

  10. Thanks for your post, your 'ranting' is appropriate when you read what some people get up to with plants, I wrote a comment on your Facebook page re somebody I replied to.

  11. thanks for this post. i've been ecoprinting now for a few months. for about a month my eyes have been red and puffy in the morning. mostly i use oak, maple, smokebush, witch hazel (not often) weld, sourwood, and marigolds. these seem pretty benign to me--any thoughts. oh--and i do use vinegar and iron water.

  12. thanks for this post. i've been ecoprinting now for a few months. for about a month my eyes have been red and puffy in the morning. mostly i use oak, maple, smokebush, witch hazel (not often) weld, sourwood, and marigolds. these seem pretty benign to me--any thoughts. oh--and i do use vinegar and iron water.

    1. The plants you list are relatively benign (though if the marigolds are tagetes then they're also used as fly repellent in India) ...maybe it's the gin? Late night movie watching? Just kidding. You might want to get yourself medically checked.

  13. Thank you for this post India. Not a rant at all - just loads of helpful information. As one who only went to an allergist in the past few years to be poked and caused to itch like mad, I can admit that it took a bit to wrap my brain around the notion that if I tested allergic to...oh...say ash tree (huge whopping welt) as well as the tree mix and grass mix pokes (itchy, but not as bad) and that if all of those elements are present in my yard and/or on my hill, it just might be a good idea to not eco dye with plants from my yard...just in case. Only recently thought to extend that line of reasoning to drinking wines that are not made in oak barrels. So far, the experiment is working. Still more wines to try though. Enjoy!

  14. Nothing wrong with ranting! Just because something will give colour, doesn't mean we should be using it (or even gathering it). I prefer to only dye with stuff I know I can eat - my belly definitely runs my practice!