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


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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Part Four: History of Medicinal Herbs

Hi, everyone! Madeline Martin and Eliza Knight here again with PART FOUR the final post 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 itto read Part Two, click here! To read Part Three CLICK!

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

Last week I introduced you to some of the poisonous herbs and how they can help... or not. Let's continue the: too much of a good thing can actually kill you… And sometimes it was on purpose discussion! Oh, and I'm going to give you some information on antidotes, too!

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

Deadly Nightshade

Also known as belladonna. The deadly nightshade plant is made up of beautiful berries that look and taste sweet. But beware!

One of the deadliest plants out there, its leaves, roots, flowers and berries are all poisonous. And the sad part is the berries are very attractive and tasty--but deadly. Many children are poisoned throughout the year by eating the juicy, delicious berries.

Used for nefarious purposes or in an accidental overdose, nightshade can be the end for any person. The poison juice from the plant was used on weapons throughout history.

If ingested, the symptoms of poisoning  present quickly and include: dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, accelerated heart rate, loss of balance/vertigo, headache, rash, flushing, severely dry mouth and throat, slurred speech, inability to urinate, constipation, hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions.

However, it was also used for medicine! Wait, what? Scary! Belladonna can be used to relieve pain, as a muscle relaxer, an anti-inflammatory, and also to treat menstrual problems, ulcers, and motion sickness.

Fun fact #1: Macbeth of Scotland, when he was still one of the lieutenants of King Duncan I of Scotland, used it during a truce to poison the troops of the invading King of England (Harold Harefoot), to the point that the English troops were unable to stand their ground and had to retreat to their ships.

Fun fact #2: It is suggested that in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet drank the juice of a deadly nightshade berry to fall into her deathlike sleep.


Also known as wolfsbane, monkshood helps reduce fever and kills viruses. So why is it listed in our poison herbs section? Because it also kills humans...

Historically, monkshood was used for fevers. It is also considered an antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral.

Symptoms of monkshood poisoning may appear almost immediately, usually not more than an hour later. Death can occur within 2-6 hours with a fatal poisoning. Large doses can produce death almost instantaneously.  The initial signs include: nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, followed by a sensation of burning in the abdomen, burning, tingling, and numbness inside the mouth and on the face. In severe cases, motor weakness occurs and sensations of tingling and numbness will spread to the limbs. The heart rate will increase and become irregular. Other symptoms may include sweating, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headache, and confusion.

Fun fact: It is suggested that this would be the poison Romeo used to end his life in the tragic play.


Don’t let the prettiness of the petals fool you! All parts of the plant can be deadly! Helpful tip: don’t use the sticks for your camping cookout...

Symptoms of oleander poisoning include: severe vomiting and diarrhea, sweating, coma, heart attack, and seizures.

How can something like that be helpful you ask?

Allegedly, oleander can be used as an antidote to a snakebite… A poultice of the “fruit” can produce sweating to break a fever. A salve can be used for relieve back pain…

The Babylonians and Romans used a mixture of oleander and licorice to treat hangovers. Pliny, the Elder of ancient Greece, wrote about the appearance and medicinal properties of oleander.

“But ye flower and the leaves have a power destructive of dogs & of Asses & of Mules & and of most four-footed living creatures, but a preserving one of men, being drank with wine against the bitings of venemous beasts & ye more if you mixed it with Rue, but ye more weak sort of living creature, as goats & sheep, die, if they drink ye maceration of them.” ~Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book IV, 82


No, there is no such thing as iocane powder… So, though we all love the Dread Pirate Roberts, we can’t build up an immunity to it like he did…

But there were antidotes to poisons—sometimes. Below I list some of the most common antidotes!
1.     Vomiting.
2.     Prayer
3.     Commonly used antidotes for certain toxins were:
a.     mulberry leaves boiled in vinegar to combat henbane
b.     garlic for serpent's bites
c.      frankincense for hemlock.
d.     Commonly thought to cure any poison: fennel seeds boiled in wine, mugwort, mallow, meadowsweet, lovage.
e.     Oddly enough, some extremely toxic plants were considered to be effective antidotes.
4.     To avoid being poisoned royals/nobles often had taste testers. They would avoid new or unfamiliar foods. Gemstones, amulets, special cups, charms and prayers were also used.
5.     When in doubt—pee on it.
6.     If you feel you are suffering from poison—call 911.

6.     If you feel you are suffering from poison—call 911.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

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