ISSUE 40  |  Nightshade

Required Reading: Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons

October 06, 2015 3:00 PM

BY Dalilah Arja

Published by Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons can be used as a guide for the novice herbalist, the seasoned botanist, or anyone with an interest in learning about how plants can heal (or kill).

The book was edited by Ben Erik van Wyk, a professor of botany at the University of South Africa at Johannesberg, and Michael Wink, the head of the Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology at Heidleberg University, so expect to come across a lot of highly scientific jargon that someone without a science degree may not understand. However, the book is easy to navigate with hundreds of color photographs and chapters divided by poisonous plants, healing plants, mind-altering plants, and more. 

Above: Illustrations of medicinal and poisonous plants. The book identifies more than 600 plants for their healing or harmful properties. Classification, uses, origin, and toxicological data is outlined for every plant. 


Above: Evening primrose, a biennial herb, is filed under phytomedicines because its seed oil contains the essential fatty acid gamma-linolic acid (GLA). GLA is used to relieve skin disorders and premenstrual symptoms. Peppermint, tea tree, feverfew, and mistletoe are also considered phytomedicines.

Plant Poisons

Above: Pretty but deadly, hellebore is extremely toxic and harmful to the heart. The green flower was once used in traditional medicine to treat digestion issues but it has since been banned. Beware of larkspur, yellow jasmine, and wild passion flower, too. 

Functional Foods

Above: Internally, hibiscus tonic has been used to treat appetite loss while externally, it may be used to treat dermatitis. Other functional foods include cacao, borage, and lemon verbena. 

Mind-Altering Drugs and Stimulants

Above: The opium poppy is classified as a neurotoxin. Although raw opium contains morphine, a pain reliever, overdosing can lead to death. Morning glories are also considered to be a mind-altering hallucinogenic, comparable to LSD. 

Above: Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons can be purchased for $31.21 on Amazon

To see more of what we’re reading, have a look at Charlotte Moss’s Garden Inspirations and Private Gardens of Paris