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Poisonous Plants in GB

44 45 Mistletoe And yew Viscum album Taxus baccata Mistletoe. Family Loranthaceae. Synonyms Lignum Crucis, Herbe de la Croix. Found on many trees but rare on oak. This is a poisonous festive decoration. In Norse myth Loki tricked Baldrs blind brother into killing him with a mistletoe spear. Mistletoes habit resembles forked lightning and in Scandinavia epileptics carry mistletoehandled knives to prevent them from being struck down by their inner electrical storm. In Britain the oak was sacred to Taranis the thunder god and Plinys Natural History recounts the Druids ceremony of cutting mistletoe from an oak tree with a golden blade, accompanied by a white bulls sacrifice. Viscum album means white and sticky, and kissing beneath the sticky berries is an ancient custom that may celebrate the oak gods virility. Lignum Crucis refers to the tradition that mistletoe was the wood of the cross. The leaf is a sedative nerve tonic and anticonvulsant used to treat epilepsy and hypertension, but the berries are more toxic. All parts can cause epileptic seizures in overdose. Yew. Family Taxaceae. Synonym Heben. A coniferlike evergreen, bearing red berries on female trees. All parts are poisonous, except the edible red flesh surrounding the seed. The hebenon of Shakespeares Hamlet is often conflated with henbane. However, contemporary sources describe hebenon as the bringer of stupor to those who abide in its shade, a property attributed to the yew. Yews have symbolic affinity with life and death, and can grow a new trunk from within a hollow one, or a circle of young trees from the extent of their roots. Some ancient yews may have originated from the sacred yew groves or nemetiae of the Druids but many churchyard yews were planted for making longbows. Today, yew is the source of the chemotherapy drug Taxol used to treat some forms of cancer.
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