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Poisonous Plants in GB

28 29 lily oF the VAlley Convallaria majalis Family Ruscaceae. Synonyms May lily, Our Ladys tears, ladder to heaven. Found in dry woods, the leaves of this plant appear in ones and twos in early spring, and are followed by racemes of beautifully scented white belllike flowers on nodding stems. The flowers develop into attractive scarlet berries. However, despite all appearances lily of the valley is a deadly poison, acting similarly to foxglove. It was once held that this herb appeared where the tears of Mary fell to earth at the crucifixion. It was also supposed to have sprung from the blood of St. George similarly St. Leonard in Sussex lore, when he was wounded whilst slaying the dragon. Another legend says that its fragrance will draw the nightingale to choose his mate in the depths of the wood. Lily of the valley was once used by Russian peasants for heart problems perhaps this herb was originally selected because of its heart shaped seeds. In modern medicine it is the source of a heart tonic and diuretic, with an action similar to digitalis though gentler. It slows the action of a weak and debilitated heart, and increases its power. Coles, in Adam in Eden 1657, describes the preparation of Aqua Aurea or Gold Water from the herb distilled in wine, and it was found to be so effective against apoplexy, or stroke that it was kept in vessels of precious metal. Culpepper wrote in his Complete Herbal 1653 that lily of the valley without doubt, strengthens the brain and renovates a weak memory. Lily of the valley used to be made into a soothing ointment for burns, and during the war in the trenches was used to make the antidote to poison gas. Symbolically too, this herb represents peace, happiness and harmony
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