Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Part Three: History of Medicinal Herbs

Hi, everyone! Madeline Martin and Eliza Knight here again with PART THREE of our 4-part series. We’re sorry you weren’t able to attend our History of Medicinal Herbs class at the Historical Romance Retreat in Spokane, WA this year. There was so much interest in this class that we decided to do a blog post here so everyone can enjoy. But there is so much to share, we’ve decided to break it down into four fun parts! Check back weekly! If you missed Part One, click to read it and to read Part Two, click here!

Please note several things: 
  1. We aren’t doctors, we aren’t even healers. Pretty much, we’re authors who make stuff up for a living and enjoy researching historical tidbits to share (especially the crazy ones). Do not try any of these herbs without consulting a doctor first.
  2. Yes, there is WAY more information about all the herbs we’re going to mention, and there are WAY more herbs than we list. However, it was an hour long class, and there really are only so many appropriate memes.
  3. We focused mainly on herbs we had on hand to do a fun show-and-tell with. Obviously being online you can’t see, touch, or smell these herbs. For that, we are humbly sorry (except we really feel we are owed a huge thanks on your part regarding the valerian root – just saying)

A brief intro about ourselves if you missed it in Part One...

This is the voice of Eliza Knight (yes, I totally just did that with my hands cupped around my mouth, because I’m a dork like that). I have always been fascinated by healing herbs and ways to heal the body naturally. It’s amazing how many things we did back in the day, that we still do now (and also a lot we figured out were a bad idea!) Because that is a part of my “real life,” I have added it to many of my books. Several of my heroines are able to use healing herbs to help people, and some use them as poisons. My favorite two herbal heroines are Shona from HIGHLANDER’S TOUCH and Julianna from THE HIGHLAND WARRIOR’S BRIDE. Shona is a healer, and is often called to the castle and village to help people, but she has also been nicknamed the Witch of the Wood, since people were so suspicious of women who could heal with herbs. Julianna, uses her herbal knowledge for good & bad. She’s a warrior, and uses poisons on her weapons.

So, for Madeline Martin (yeah, I totally just referred to myself in third person to keep this from getting confusing) – I decided I would write a female healer as they’ve always fascinated me. Celia (from Enchantment of a Highlander) was not only a healer, but a survivor of the North Berwick Witch Trials (it’s sad and fascinating and the history dork in me demands you look it up). In order to write a healer though, I wanted to have the full experience of what she might go through, so I decided to start doing all natural bath and body products. It opened the door to this incredible interest and now all you nice folks will be subjected to our findings. J

Too much of a good thing can actually kill you… And sometimes it was on purpose. Let’s talk a little bit about poisonous herbs and how they can help... or not.

*Please note: we’re pretty certain poisoning on any level is a felony so just keep it in your reading and writing!*


Want to make your characters sweat? When infused with wine, horseradish can produce sweating!

Ground up and kept in an airtight container, you can create a noxious gas. There is a component to horseradish that gives it a super hot powers when chewed called sinigrin. This compound can be calmed by using vinegar (which is how horseradish sauce and wasabi are made), but if you don’t calm it down, you can literally set your mouth on fire, burn your lungs and become nauseas. This same thing can happen if you breathe it in after it's been ground up and kept in an airtight container. Check out Justin Brower’s account!

On a good note, horseradish has some healing properties, too. In Europe, during the middle ages, horseradish was used as a cough expectorant and treatment for food poisoning, scurvy, tuberculosis, worms, and colic.


Don’t touch or you’ll be sorry! But, if you need a diuretic, look no further!

The hairs on the nettles aret like little needles that get beneath your skin to inject the plant’s formic acid, aka “poison,” which can leave a stinging/burning sensation and rash for hours.

Need to get your characters bowels/bladder moving? The root or leaves crushed into a tincture could be used as a diuretic.


They look so innocent… just like any other mushroom… Don’t let their soft white caps trick you! Known as the Death Cap or Destroying Angel, one half of a poisonous mushroom can take down a man.

Knowing your mushrooms is key as they are also clearly a food. So, before you go foraging in the forest, do your research!

Funny enough, the puffball mushroom looks poisonous but it isn’t. It can be eaten, and its inner tissues can be applied to wounds to stop bleeding. Burning the puffballs creates a smoke that was often used to stupefy bees in order for our ancestors to collect their honey.

What happens if you eat a poisonous mushroom? Or are injured by a weapon covered in mushroom juice? A person typically won’t experience symptoms for at least a few hours, and sometimes as much as an entire day. Eventually, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and severely dehydrating diarrhea can occur. Because of the delay, a person may be wrongly diagnosed with the flu or some other benign illness. To make matters worse, if the whoever ingested the mushroom remains somewhat hydrated, their symptoms can lessen, creating the false appearance of getting well. Meanwhile, the poison from the mushroom stealthily destroys their liver. Without proper treatment, the character can experience rapid organ failure, coma, and death.

Allegedly, Agrippina, the fourth wife of Emperor Claudius, killed her husband by feeding him poisoned mushrooms.


Extremely poisonous, hemlock was once used to execute prisoners in Greece.

There is not one part of the hemlock plant that is safe. Hemlock causes a gradual weakening of the muscles and intense pain as the muscles deteriorate and die.  Though sight might be lost, the mind remains clear until death occurs.  Symptoms begin in thirty minutes, though it takes several hours to die.

If you’re looking for a couple of ways to use hemlock poisoning in your fictional work, you could add the leaves to a salad or other fine dish. And very interestingly enough, quail can eat hemlock seeds without effect from the poison. However, the flesh of the bird then becomes poisonous. If someone were to eat the bird, it would be enough to give a person convulsions, vertigo, paralysis and even death. 

For medicinal purposes, hemlock can be used as a sedative and antispasmodic (and to induce paralysis). In mediaeval days, Hemlock mixed with betony and fennel seed was considered a cure for the bite of a rabid dog.

Because of its sedative properties, hemlock juice was prescribed as a remedy for teething in children and epilepsy.  As an inhalant, it was believed to relieve whooping-cough and other lung afflictions.

Famed botanist of the 17th century, William Coles wrote in his book, The Art of Simpling:

'If Asses chance to feed much upon Hemlock, they will fall so fast asleep that they will seeme to be dead, in so much that some thinking them to be dead indeed have flayed off their skins, yet after the Hemlock had done operating they have stirred and wakened out of their sleep, to the griefe and amazement of the owners.'

 More next week! Plus antidotes!

Subscribe to our newsletters for another awesome recipe! Mid-October, we sent out the healing balm recipe (which was also posted here), and in mid-November, we will sent out a pet paw ointment recipe for the coming winter!

Eliza Knight & Madeline Martin at the Historical Romance Retreat 


Madeline Martin is a USA TODAY Bestselling author of Scottish set historical romance novels. She lives a glitter-filled life in Jacksonville, Florida with her two daughters (known collectively as the minions) and a man so wonderful he's been dubbed Mr. Awesome. All shenanigans are detailed regularly on Twitter and on Facebook.

Madeline loves animals in sweaters, cat videos, wine and Nutella. Check out her FB page on any given Friday to see what great new book she's giving away by one of her fellow authors. 

She also loves connecting with her readers, so feel free to follow her on any one of her social media platforms, or send her a message :) 

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/MadelineMartinAuthor/
Twitter: @MadelineMMartin


Eliza Knight is an award-winning and USA Today bestselling indie author of over fifty sizzling historical romance and erotic romance. Under the name E. Knight, she pens rip-your-heart-out historical fiction. While not reading, writing or researching for her latest book, she chases after her three children. In her spare time (if there is such a thing…) she likes daydreaming, wine-tasting, traveling, hiking, staring at the stars, watching movies, shopping and visiting with family and friends. She lives atop a small mountain with her own knight in shining armor, three princesses and two very naughty puppies. 

Twitter: @ElizaKnight
Instagram: @ElizaKnightFiction

1 comment:

Charlene Whitehouse said...

Very interesting but deadly indeed. Thank you for sharing.