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Poisonous Plants in GB

6 7 white bryony Bryonia dioica Family Cucurbitaceae. Synonyms English mandrake, wild vine, wild nep, tamus, Ladies seal, tetterbury. Found in woodlands and hedgerows throughout Britain, especially the south. A vinelike perennial producing tendrils that lie to the side of the lobed hairy leaves enabling it to climb to 3m. Small whitish inconspicuous flowers are produced from May onwards, later becoming clusters of scarlet berries. Each plant bears flowers of only one sex. The only native British member of the cucumber family, and a violent irritant poison. Important to honeybees but deadly to humans. 2000 years ago the root as thick as a mans thigh was known to Dioscorides and Pliny, and Galen employed its acrid juice in epilepsy though occasionally it acted too violently. In the scarcity that followed the French Revolution it became a nutritious food after thorough methodical preparation. The poison attacks the digestive tract, causing vomiting, watery purgation with urination, intense abdominal pain and inflammation. Historical uses include the treatment of intestinal worms, ringworm or tetters, dropsy and rheumatic heart, malaria and all of the 19th century infectious maladies. It relieved the pain and persistence of whooping cough and was applied externally producing localised heat to ease painful joints. Norfolk horsemen fed small quantities with corn to condition their beasts, and it was used to purge sick cattle. In mediaeval times the root became English mandrake after attaining human shape by being grown in a mould, or carved and reburied so that the bark would scar over. A thin scallop would be cut in the crown of the root where grass seed was planted to resemble hair. Mandrakes, both genuine and English, fetched high prices and were used in folk magic to attract love and luck, or to heal and curse from afar see mandrake, page 20.
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