Lily of the Valley (convallaria majalis)

Lily of the Valley (convallaria majalis)

One of the most popular Victorian garden plants on account of its perfume, lily of the valley contains three glycosides; convallarin, convallamarin, and convallotoxin. Convallotoxin is one of the most active natural substances affecting the heart. It causes irregular, slow pulse rates and can cause heart failure. In addition, the plant contains saponins, which cause gastrointestinal poisoning.

There was a superstition that anyone planting a bed of lily of the valley would be dead within 12 months. Gerard recommended it ‘because it restores speech to those who have the ‘dumb palsy’ and is a treatment for gout. The flowers, put in a sealed glass jar and set in an anthill for a month, will yield a liquor which is an excellent ointment for treating gout.’

Magical propensities for drawing peace and tranquillity; repels negativity; empowering happiness; mental powers. Use in magical workings to stop harassment.

Old Man’s Beard or Traveller’s Joy (clematis vitalba)

Old Man’s Beard or Traveller’s Joy (clematis vitalba)

A native perennial found in hedgerows, wood edges and scrub, it may be a beautiful plant, but it was said to do the Devil’s work for him by trailing into the other plants and choking them. Used medicinally in homeopathic preparations for rheumatism and skin eruptions, the plant contains protoanemonin and ingestion leads to severe abdominal pain and gastrointestinal irritation. Contact can cause skin irritation, which is why it was known as herbe aux gueux (‘beggar’s weed’) in France, having once been used by beggars to irritate the skin in order to simulate sores. The acrid smell of the foliage causes profuse watering of the eyes and nose when inhaled.

Magical propensities: None found.

Wolfsbane or Monkshood (aconitum napullus)

Wolfsbane or Monkshood (aconitum napullus)

One of the most beautiful and also oldest and most deadliest of poisons. The principal alkaloids are aconite and aconitine; of these aconitine is thought to be the key toxin and one of the most toxic plant compounds known. Ingestion of even a small amount results in severe gastrointestinal upset, but it is the effect on the heart, where it causes slowing of the heart rate, which is often the cause of death. The poison may be administered by absorption through broken skin or open wounds and there are reports of florists being unwell after working with the flowers.

Its distinctive taste makes it unpleasant to eat so accidental poisoning is extremely rare but not unknown. The taste is described as initially very bitter followed by a burning sensation and, then, a numbing of the mouth. All parts of the plant are extremely poisonous if eaten and may cause systematic poisoning if handled.

Magical propensities for invisibility and protection from evil. Excellent for redirecting predators.

Mandrake (mandragora officinarum)

A stemless perennial with a fleshy taproot and broadly ovate leaves; small white to blue-white, bell-shaped flowers are borne at ground level in spring, followed by aromatic yellow fruits. One of the most written about plants in history with whole books devoted to its properties and its ability to scream when pulled from the ground. It is a relative of deadly nightshade so contains the tropane alkaloids, notably hyoscine and atropine; the effects are hallucinogenic, narcotic, emetic and purgative similar to deadly nightshade and henbane. Mandrake root is supposed to look like the male form (having two legs, a body and often a hairy top) and, under the Doctrine of Signatures, its use ‘would give a man that power which men are always willing to spend a lot of money to get!’ Its high price was maintained, in part, by the difficulty of harvesting it.

Magical propensities for magical uses include protection; prosperity; fertility; exorcising evil. Carry to attract love. Wear to preserve health.

Sources: By Wolfsbane and Mandrake Root

Deadly Nightshade (atropa belladonna)

Deadly Nightshade (atropa belladonna)

For many, this is the star of the poison plants; named for Atropos, one of the Three Fates, who held the shears with which she could cut the thread of life. It grows in scrub, woods, woodland margins and thickets with the dark purple flowers appearing in June to August and the black, shiny berries from August to November. Most people have heard of deadly nightshade even if they have never seen it growing in the wild; its combination of providing deadly poison and its use to beautify give it a romantic attraction that is hard to beat. Add to that the hallucinations it may also cause and its fascination is complete. The plant’s very name, ‘belladonna’, comes from its use by Venetian women to make themselves ‘beautiful ladies’ by causing their pupils to dilate. Before the advent of modern anaesthetics, belladonna was applied to the skin as ‘sorcerer’s pomade’ to make the patient unconscious before surgery.

Belladonna contains tropane alkaloids, notably hyoscine (also called scopolamine), hyoscyamine and atropine, with at least five other toxic components having been isolated.

The enticing berries are slightly sweet and symptoms may be slow to appear, but last for several days. They include dryness in the mouth, thirst, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, blurred vision from the dilated pupils, vomiting, excessive stimulation of the heart, drowsiness, slurred speech, hallucinations, confusion, disorientation, delirium, and agitation. Coma and convulsions often precede death. There is disagreement over what constitutes a fatal amount with cases cited of a small child eating half a berry and dying alongside a nine-year-old Danish boy who ate between 20 and 25 berries yet survived. [Poisonous Plants, John Robertson] Though the root is believed to have the highest concentration of the toxins, the berries are usually the cause of accidental poisoning because they look so tempting.

Magical propensities for inducing visions and aiding astral projection.

Sources: By Wolfsbane and Mandrake Root

Chinese Lantern (Physalis alkekengi)

Chinese Lantern (Physalis alkekengi)


A unique plant, and gardeners definitely love unique! The round pods that form near the fruit of this plants are so cool looking! They are paper-like in texture, and definitely add interest to a container or flower display. However, anyone who has grown them knows how easily they can take over, making them a lot more annoying than cool. You might be tempted by these interesting plants, but there are definitely better options out there.


If the berries on this plant are ripe, they’re edible. But if not, they can cause headache, vomiting, breathing problems, and numbness.

Stay away! This plant is aggressive, weedy, and potentially deadly. This is enough to put it in the “don’t plant” category.