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Although my neighbors are all barbarians,
And you, you are a thousand miles away,
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--Tang Dynasty

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will sit down "with" me for tea,
or flavored coffee or spiced cider,
and have a garden variety chat.
Now and then.
I am not so consistant about blogging
as I ought to be.
I *am* consistant about
drinking hot beverage
and the coffee/tea is always on the hob.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates - byJacques-Louis David

The hour of departure has arrived,
And we go our ways –
I to die and you to live
Which is better, only God knows.

Socrates, Quoted in: Plato's Apology, sct. 42a. Last words of his speech to the court following the sentence of death imposed on him by the Athenians

Today I found a beautiful ferny plant growing next to the pile of topsoil we have waiting to enrich the flowerbeds. It was huge! It looked a lot like Queen Anne's Lace, but I knew there were look alikes of that wild carrot that were dangerous so I did some research. The research all led back to Socrates, and ...

Poison Hemlock or Conium maculatum .

"Coniine is the neurotoxin [in this wild plant], which disrupts the workings of the peripheral nervous system and is toxic to people and all classes of livestock. Coniine causes death by blocking the neuromuscular junction in a manner similar to curare; this results in an ascending muscular paralysis with eventually paralysis of the respiratory muscles which results in death due to lack of oxygen to the heart and brain. Death can easily be prevented by artificial respiration until the effects have worn off 48-72 hours later. Ingestion of Poison Hemlock in any quantity can result in respiratory collapse and death. "

"Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is probably the most famous poisonous member of its family. Although not native to the United States, it has become established here and is a fairly common roadside weed. It can grow up to 3 meters (10 feet) tall and is easily recognized by the purple splotches on its stem. Contact with this plant can cause dermatitis, so wear gloves when pulling it. "

The plant's fame comes from its use in the execution of the famous Greek philosopher, Socrates, who was made to drink an extract from the plant.

"It is acutely toxic to people and animals. The clinical course is rapid, and animals may be found dead or die within a few hours. Initial consumption may cause a burning sensation in the mouth, salivation, emesis and diarrhea. Rapidly developing neurologic signs include muscle tremors, muscular weakness, dim vision, convulsions and coma. Death results from respiratory failure. Frequent urination and defecation may also occur. All parts of the poison hemlock plant are highly toxic to humans and animals and may result in death if ingested. Most of the recent cases of human poisoning have resulted from mistaking poison hemlock with edible species of the carrot family.
Poison hemlock can also cause birth defects in ruminants and swine, with cattle and swine more susceptible than sheep and goats. The most often reported birth defects are cleft palate and spinal abnormalities. "


My daughter put on gloves and disposed of it for me. I almost felt a pang of remorse that I couldn't keep it. After all, how cool is that to have the same plant that killed Socrates? (NO! Not really, I'm kidding.) I could not live with myself if a child ever got poisoned by a plant on my property. And if a child ate this one they would die.

Now, here's a shocker for you.

This plant grows rampantly along the river banks where we have the Feast of the Strawberry Moon Reenactment every June. It's beautiful. It's deadly.