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?