My Poison Box

Posted by on April 19, 2009 in Wicked Plants | 6 comments

Poison box

When I first started writing Wicked Plants, I had this idea for something I wanted to do on the book tour.  "I'm going to find some kind of old leather doctor's bag," I told my editor one day in New York, "filled with little vials and boxes.  I'll put my poisons in there–strychnine seeds, castor bean, hemlock root–and I'll take it on the book tour." 

I said that as if something like that just existed and it was only a matter of me finding it.  Not that I had ever seen anything precisely like that for sale before.

Later that day, I was walking through the East Village when I came across Obscura Antiques and Oddities,  exactly the sort of place that would sell a weird old medical bag.

And in fact, they had one.  A square leather carrying case lined inside with red velvet.  Filled with little glass vials.  And guess what?  The vials already had wicked plants in them.

I am not making this up.  There was an Opium vial, a Belladonna vial, a Digitalis vial…and many cures, too, from chloroform to mustard powder.  A leaflet tucked inside the lid read "Poisons with Antidotes."

Wow.  It was way more than I expected to spend, but Scott encouraged me to get it.  "You think you're going to find another one of these somewhere?" he said.

He was right.  This was a one-of-a-kind thing.

I have replaced some of the less interesting contents with poisons of my own:  rosary pea seed, peacock flower, datura, tobacco (I bummed a cigarette off a friend for this one.)  It's going with me to Cincinnati tomorrow, and if all goes well, I'll have it with me for the whole tour.  Think I'll make it through airport security?  Hmmmmm…

Below are some of the labels I made myself to match the authentic old ones in the kit.  They look pretty convincing, don't you think?

Poison vials

6 Comments

  1. Synchronicity! It’s beautiful! :-) I hope it does do well for you–it’s a great visual. :-)

  2. This – is very cool! I hope I get the chance to se what you do with it.

  3. So glad you got it. You’d have kicked yourself forever if you hadn’t.
    I was listening to an audiobook of Silas Marner during a long car ride this weekend. It was fun to hear foxglove (digitalis) mentioned as a treatment for heart problems in this old tale, with it’s great descriptions of life from a time long past.
    Silas Marner, a weaver, is unjustly accused of a crime and he dissappears, moving to a new village where he is unknown. He notices symptoms in a woman, symptoms similar to his mother’s own heart illness, which where helped with digitalis. This woman is helped by his suggestion to use foxglove, something not known the the local doctor. The woman is influential in the town, and this raises Silas Marner’s profile.

  4. That is totally groovy. The closest I can come to this is a cache of old pharmaceuticals from my granddad’s basement (he was a general practitioner MD), including (my favorite) an opium paste for rectal administration named Rectodyne. It’s in a paint tube, and comes with a rectal adapter for easy insertion and a key-thing you fasten on to the bottom of the tube before rolling it up to make sure you get the whole dose out of the tube. It’s from the 1930s. I love the name Rectodyne.

  5. Thanks, Chuck. I am now going to think of rectal paste every time I look at an opium poppy.

  6. Amazing find! Goes along with what an old friend used to say about putting the energy out there and the world will make it happen (within reason of course).