Safety Tips in Lorraine

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  • F_Meignant's Profile Photo

    The devil's turnip, 2...

    by F_Meignant Written Feb 4, 2004

    The name “bryonia” comes from the ancient Greek “bruein”, to grow, because it grows fast.

    The term “dioica” indicates that there are male and female bryonies: the two sexes are not on the same plant.

    The whole plant is toxic, especially its little red berries.
    Here after, the site of the French emergency poisons units:
    Centre antipoison

    Flower of bryony.
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    The devil's turnip...

    by F_Meignant Written Feb 4, 2004

    Scientific name: Bryonia dioïca.
    English: Red-berried bryony
    French: Bryone, Navet du diable
    German: Zaunrübe
    Dutch: Heggerank

    Belongs to the family of the CUCURBITACEAE like cucumber, gherkin, courgette! Voluble plant. Bushes and hedges.

    We call it « Navet du diable » (Devil’s turnip), perhaps because of its toxicity, perhaps for more “commercial” reasons:

    If you read “Harry Potter” or saw the movie, you probably heard about mandragora… A plant that was, in the Middle Age, supposed to have magical powers especially when grown under gibbets and “watered” by hanged men’s sperm… Actually a narcotic.

    A text from XVth century says (by the "voice" of Dame Transeline du Croq, probably a witch):
    “ …Et si vous dy que qui porroit finer d’un vray mandegloire, et le couchast en blans draps, et lui présentast à menger et à boire deux fois le jour, combien qu’il ne mengue ne boive, cellui qui ce feroit devendroit en pou d’espace moult riche et ne sauroit comment…” (…So, I tell you that who could find a true mandragora’s root, would put it in a bed in white sheets, and would offer it twice a day something to eat and something to drink, even if it neither eats nor drinks, who would do this would soon become very rich and would ignore how…)

    Many gibbets at this period, and many hanged men. Nevertheless, mandragora was rare. Especially here: the real mandragora (Mandragora officinalis) grows in warmer areas, around the Mediterranean Sea.

    More: it’s gathering was said to be very dangerous because the plant was supposed to let out a deadly cry when pulled up…

    That’s why its roots were expensive. Very expensive. Encouraging imitations…

    On the contrary, bryony is very frequent… Above all, its big root looks like a mandragora's one.
    No need to go and collect it under gibbets: it grows everywhere.
    No danger in the gathering…
    Enough for creating a market… Roots of bryony were often sold for mandragora’s ones.
    Secretely because magical activities were directly leading to the stake...

    Leaves of bryony.
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  • F_Meignant's Profile Photo

    The nice lady, 2...

    by F_Meignant Written Feb 4, 2004

    The taste of the fruits is supposed to be very sweet (of course, I never tried!) and children often think the fruits are bilberries.
    That's why they are the main victims.

    Here is a site devoted to French emergency poisons units:
    Centres anti-poison

    From the fruits of the deadly nightshade was also made a nice green colour that was used by miniaturists in the Middle Age…
    A dangerous one for the painter and the reader...
    Remember Umberto Eco’s “Le nom de la Rose”.

    The term “bella dona” (nice lady) comes from the fact that the juice of the plant was used by upper-class Roman and Italian women to make the pupil of their eyes wider. Charming can be dangerous!

    Because of this characteristic, the plant was (still is?) used in ophthalmology.

    Nevertheless, the scientific name of the plant, “atropa”, seems more appropriate:
    Atropos was the name of the third of the Parcae… the one who cuts the thread of life.

    Fruit of the deadly nightshade.
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  • F_Meignant's Profile Photo

    The nice lady...

    by F_Meignant Written Feb 4, 2004

    Scientific name: Atropa bella dona .
    English: Deadly nightshade
    French: Belladone
    German: Tollbeere
    Dutch: Tollkirsche

    Family of the SOLANACEAE. From the same family: Tobacco, potatoes and tomatoes! Grows in hedges and bushes.

    Deadly nightshade… Even the name is worrying. Creepy. Probably the main poisoner of local plants.


    In the first century AC, Dioscoride called it Strychnos manicos to underline that is was as dangerous as strychnine…

    In 1543, L. Fuchs mentions that he could not save several children who ate parts of the plant…

    In 1794, Valmont-Bomare wrote:
    ”…Its fruit, deadly, has fast and odd effects. After roars of laughter and various gestures announcing delirium, swiftly comes a real madness soon followed by a dull stupidity and death…”.

    And A. Mangin in 1869:
    “…In 1793, young orphans from the hospice of “la Pitié” (Paris) who were employed at weeding out by the “Jardin des Plantes”, noticed deadly nightshade’s fruits in the patch of the medicinal plants. They tried them, enjoyed their sweet taste, and ate quite a lot. Out of these children, 14 died a few hours later…”

    In 1825, an infantry regiment on manoeuvres was decimated after having eaten the sweet fruits of deadly nightshade…

    Still a few years ago, a child died not very far from here.

    So many examples… Nevertheless, in 1883, Dr. Saffray writes that rabbits, sheep and pigs can eat it without any danger.

    Deadly nightshade.
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Lorraine Warnings and Dangers

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