Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Book Review: Wicked Plants

I mentioned several weeks back that I was waiting on a copy of Amy Stewart's newest book Wicked Plants to be available at my library.  I got my hands on it a couple of weeks ago and have been reading it off and on.  It is an easy book to read in pieces, as most plant descriptions are just a couple of pages in length.

In Wicked Plants, Amy Stewart writes about all sorts of mischievous plants.  Those that have acted as mere annoyances by getting stuck in your socks when out for a walk, or those that have killed hundreds of people throughout history.  The stories I enjoyed most were those that played a role in history.  For example, Abraham Lincoln lost his mother at a young age.  She was poisoned by drinking milk from a cow which had eaten a dangerous weed.  Actually, this is the subtitle of the book: Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities.

One of the more interesting accounts in the book is about a specific plant whose effects may have resulted in myths about vampires.  The plant is a common food plant, that when eaten as a staple food can result in dietary deficiencies and leads to the following ailments: dermatitis, dementia, diarrhea and (eventually) death.  These symptoms made the offenders appear pale and sensitive to sunlight.  When exposed to sunlight, they would develop ghastly sores.  Additionally, the symptom of foul-smelling mouth and bloody sores in the mouth might have led to the ideas that vampires have sulphuric-smelling breath and are drinkers of blood.   The dietary deficiency can lead to brain degeneration which can manifest itself through insomnia and aggression.  I'll leave the name of this food a mystery, as Amy Stewart would probably prefer you read her book. :)

My favorite story was probably that of a young teenager who wandered into a patch of Poison Sumac, which left him completely blinded for several weeks.  Even when his eyesight returned, it was never the same again.  During this period, he was not able to attend school and says that his seclusion nurtured his love of the outdoors.  This young man, named Frederick Law Olmstead, later went on to design New York City's Central Park - a tribute to the outdoors that he loved so much.

If you would enjoy reading about poisonous plants and even a couple of antidote anecdotes, I would suggest Amy Stewart's Wicked Plants as an entertaining read.

The next book review will likely be One River by Wade Davis.  Look for that one in about a month.


  1. It sounds like a really good book, informative and fun to read!Thank you Zach!

  2. The book sounds quite interesting and I am very curious about the plant....