Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

Love Potions, Fairy Gloves And Mandrake Roots

“And because the Breath of Flowers is farre Sweeter in the Aire (where it comes and Gose, like the Warbling of Musick) than in the hand, therefore nothing is more fit for delight, than to know what be the Flowers and the Plants that doe best perfume the Aire.” ~Frances Bacon

My fascination with herbs is largely prompted by my absorption with all things historic and the thrill of seeing, touching, sometimes tasting, and above all smelling the same plants known by the ancients.  Herbs have changed little, if at all, over the centuries and offer us a connection with the past that precious little does in these modern days.  It’s pure intoxication to rub fragrant leaves between my fingers and savor the scent while pondering the wealth of lore behind these plants.

I hope my enthusiasm will enrich your lives with a deeper awareness of those people who dwelt on this earth long before us and to inspire you to plant herbs in your gardens or in pots on a patio or sunny windowsill.  My love of herbs and herbal lore spills over into my stories.

The following post is one I wrote for my blog that’s been reprinted at various online sites and in RWA® chapter newsletters and sums it up rather well.

~Time out of mind, herbs have figured prominently in mystery and romance. Shakespeare is probably the most famous author to incorporate the juice of monkshood as the deadly elixir in Hamlet.  Mandrake, the screaming roots in Harry Potter, made up the sleeping potion that sent Juliette into a death-like slumber.  Poor Romeo, if only he’d known before he drank belladonna, a member of the deadly nightshade family, or wolf’s bane. It seems no one is quite certain what the ill-fated lover knocked back.

Whimsical fancies sprang up around the shape of plants. The bell-like flowers of foxglove were thought to be the minute gloves that fairies wore, especially as foxglove bloomed in shady woodlands where everyone knows the little folk dwell. Commonly called digitalis, this now-famous plant is widely used to treat heart disease. But too strong a dose and bang––you have a murder mystery. In Pocketful of Rye, Agatha Christie favored a poisonous concoction made of yew disguised in marmalade. The author hid deadly hemlock in a bottle of cold beer in Five Little Pigs.

Many herbs also had romantic uses. The love potion in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been analyzed by a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in England. Doctor Sell thinks it was made up of heart’s ease (violas) blended with the sweetness of musk roses. In the play, Oberon drops the flowery decoction onto the eyelids of the sleeping Titania, but the good doctor cautions against trying this at home. Rather, opt for the nape of the neck or the décolleté. Men just love the décolleté––breasts pushed up by a tightly drawn corset for those of you who didn’t realize.

Speaking of romance, it was thought that a young maiden could toss a sprig of St. John’s Wort over her shoulder and soon learn the name of the man she was to marry. Leafy branches of this herb were also hung in windows to ward off evil spirits and burnt to protect against devils, goblins and witches. Bear this in mind, if you’re troubled by them. Legend has it that angelica was revealed in a dream by an angel to cure the bubonic plague. All parts of the plant were deemed of great value against enchantment. And don’t forget boughs of the sacred rowan tree to ward off evil spells.

Feeling timid? Anoint your feet with catnip tea to embolden yourself. Fennel seed is said to boost desire. Lavender is “of ‘especiall good use for all griefes and paines of the head.” For those of you who would be true, rosemary is the symbol of fidelity between lovers. Traditionally, a wreath of the aromatic herb was worn by brides. Rosemary is also the herb of remembrance left at the grave of loved ones.

Historical writers, especially, can incorporate the use of herbs to flavor their stories, as do I. But anyone can mix in a love potion or fatal elixir to spice up the usual suspects in a suspense or murder mystery. ~

I’m teaching an online class in May for Celtic Hearts Romance Writers, open to anyone. If interested click this link and scroll down to the info on my class: http://www.celtichearts.org/ workshops.html

Originally posted 2011-02-07 16:08:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

What Can Kill Can Cure–Or Kill–Poisons & Caroline Clemmon’s Historical Romance

Thanks to Beth for inviting me to her beautiful blog. We all recognize that Beth is an expert on herbs and flowers, and I thoroughly enjoy her blogs and classes. Many of my books feature healing with herbs, which is another reason I enjoy Beth’s blogs and have taken her class. I dream of having an English cottage garden with all those lovely flowers Beth mentions.

*Thanks so much, Caroline. I dream of that too which is why I keep digging, planting, weeding…in hopes of achieving the perfect garden.  Like the image I’ve included, now back to Caroline.

~Today, though, I want to talk about a different type plant from those Beth grows and studies. I mean poison! Do you hear scary music playing? You should. Mwaahahahaa.

*Beth clapping hands.  Loves British murder mysteries with various poisons.

I first became interested in poisons years ago from reading Agatha Christie’s mysteries. I still love her books and am fascinated with poison. Many plants have medicinal qualities and other seemingly innocent lovelies can be deadly. For instance, in Alexander DumasTHE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, oleander leaves are ground and incorporated into food to murder. Foxglove can heal or kill, depending on how it is administered and to whom. While researching, I pour through books like DEADLY DOSES from Writers Digest Book and old herbals. My eldest daughter fed my fascination with HERBS AND THINGS by Jeanne Rose, a book on remedies that gives both friendly and unfriendly plants and their uses.  *Sounds like great reading.  (Henry Cavill in the 2002 film The Count of Monte Cristo)

Before current forensic tests, poisoners had more freedom. Pathologists’ tests uncover most poisons and create a hardship for villains. Since my current trilogy is historical, my villain is safe from sophisticated forensics. Of course, many poisons leave tell-tale signs that even a medieval physician could detect. All readers know that cyanide leaves a distinctive smell and coloration of the victim’s lips for a while after death. Advanced arsenic poisoning colors the fingernails at the base. Can you believe women used to use arsenic to control their weight? I’d love to be thin, but not that way!

For my current Men of Stone Mountain trilogy, I studied poisons available in the Southwest where the book is set. In the first of my trilogy, BRAZOS BRIDE, heroine Hope Montoya is being poisoned. She doesn’t know the killer’s identity or type of poison, but she is an intelligent woman and deduces the poison is administered through her food and/or her tonic. Although she is severely weakened by the contaminate, she devises a plan to escape and gain an ally. The key is to convince Micah Stone to wed her in a temporary marriage of convenience. What would convince him? Although in truth we’re saturated here in North Central Texas, often that’s not the case. A drought has Micah’s cattle dying for lack of water.

Blurb from BRAZOS BRIDE:

Hope Montoya knows someone is poisoning her, but who? She suspects her mother was also poisoned and knows her father was murdered. Who wants her family eliminated? She vows to fight! She realizes she won’t last the eight months until she turns twenty-five and her uncle no longer controls her or her estate. Never will she be dominated by a man as she was by her father, as she has seen her mother and grandmothers dominated. If she marries, she gains control now, but only if she weds a man she can trust. Only one man meets her requirements. Can she trust him to protect her and capture the killer…but then to leave?

Micah Stone has been in love with Hope since the first time he saw her. But he was accused of her father’s murder and surely would have hung if not for his two brothers’ aid. Most in the community still believe him guilty. But the drought has him too worried about water for his dying cattle to care about his neighbors’ opinions. When Hope proposes a paper marriage in exchange for land on the Brazos River and much-needed cash, her offer rubs his pride raw. His name may be Stone, but he’s not made of it. He can’t refuse her for long, and so their adventure begins.

And here’s a BRAZOS BRIDE excerpt from the wedding night of their marriage of convenience. I hope you find this intriguing:

~She looked at her hands. Perhaps she was unreasonable. Or maybe insane for sympathizing with a man who’d had to work harder because of her family.

“I know it is an odd situation. If—if you wear your shirt and britches, I guess it would be all right if you slept on top of the cover here.” She patted the bed beside her.

He froze. Not a muscle moved, and he only stared at her. Had she misunderstood? Did he think her offer too forward?

She babbled, “That is, if you want to. You said I should trust you. Well, maybe you would be more comfortable where you are.” Why didn’t he say something? Would he prefer sleeping in a chair to sharing the bed?

From the street below, she heard raucous laughter and someone called to a man named Ben. Music from a piano, she supposed in the saloon, drifted in through the open windows. A gust of breeze moved the curtains and slid across her skin. In this room, though, there was no sound.

Slowly, he rose and extinguished the lamp as he moved across the room. She slid one of the pillows beside hers then scooted down. What had possessed her to offer him half her bed? Would he think she invited more?

Too late to take it back now, for the mattress dipped as he stretched out. Quaking inside at the thought of him so near, she turned her back to him. She heard his weary sigh, as if he relaxed for the first time in a long while.

“Good night,” she offered, and hoped he understood the finality of the phrase.

“Yep. Good night, Mrs. Stone.” The mattress shook as he turned his back to her. She felt the soles of his feet press against her ankles. He must be several inches too long for the bed and she guessed he had to bend his legs to fit. She didn’t dare turn to see firsthand.

She lay perfectly still, afraid to take a deep breath. Soon his breathing changed and she knew he slept. Outside the open window the town quieted and the distant tinkling of the piano was the only sound. Light from the full moon illuminated the room and slanted across the bed. A soft breeze drifted across her, lulling her in its caress.

With a sigh, she fought to relax, but abdominal pain kept her awake no matter how her body cried for rest. Perhaps if she planned, she’d forget the pain and chills that racked her frame.

Plan, yes. She needed a plan for food preparation when she returned to her home. No, Micah said he had a plan. Oh, dear, once more he took charge when it was her life, her home.

Maybe Aunt Sofia and Uncle Jorge would have left by then and things would be fine. Already she felt more secure. She sensed her eyelids drifting closed and the sleep’s blessed relief approaching.

A gunshot ripped apart the night.

The blast startled her and she screamed as something thudded near her head, showering her hair and face with splinters. Panic immobilized her. What had happened?

Micah dragged her onto the floor as a bullet ripped into the mattress.~

Did that capture your interest? If so, here is the buy link at Amazon Kindle where BRAZOS BRIDE is only 99 cents:

***It certainly captured mine!  Sounds fascinating

Thanks again, Beth, for having me as your guest. Readers, thank you for stopping by!

***Caroline Clemmons writes mystery, romance, and adventures—although her earliest made up adventures featured her saving the West with Roy Rogers. Her career has included stay-at-home mom (her favorite job), newspaper reporter and featured columnist, assistant to the managing editor of a psychology journal, and bookkeeper. She and her husband live in rural North Central Texas with a menagerie of rescued pets. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with family, reading, travel, browsing antique malls and estate sales, and genealogy/family history.

Excerpts from some of her exceptional reviews can be found on her website at www.carolineclemmons.com. View her blog posts Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at http://carolineclemmons.blogspot.com and find book reviews, giveaways, interview, and miscellany.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CarolineClemmonsRomances#!/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/carolinclemmons (No E in Caroline)

At Goodreads:

Caroline loves to hear from readers at caroline@carolineclemmons.com

Originally posted 2012-03-23 12:06:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Poisonous Plant Garden Inspired By Agatha Christie

The great Agatha Christie favored poison as her preferred means of dispatching unfortunate characters in many of her murder mysteries. One of the deadliest herbs, Monkshood, also called Aconite and Wolfsbane, certainly played a part.  Torre Abbey in Torquay has a garden devoted to the plants that rear their heads in her work. Torre Abbey, built in 1196, is the largest surviving medieval monastery in Devon and Cornwall.
Agatha Christie’s Potent Plants is the creation of Torre Abbey Head Gardener Ali Marshall, who in true crime writing style researched around 80 of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories in just six months to come up with the Abbey’s own unique commemoration. The new feature links the author’s interest in poisonous plants, her wartime work as a pharmacy dispenser and the medicinal plants that Torre Abbey’s medieval canons might have used.
With Poirot-esque determination and attention to detail Ali Marshall, with the help of experts at Torquay’s Agatha Christie Shop, has designed a garden with a central display of potent plants surrounded by plants that serve as Agatha Christie clues, solved only with a knowledge of the plots of some of the author’s short stories. What better way could there be for Agatha Christie fans to exercise their ‘little grey cells’?”
“Do not touch is the warning for all visitors to the new garden and a skull-rating denotes the level of toxicity of each of the plants. Ali Marshall explains: “While this might sound extremely dangerous for staff and public alike we have been very careful in our choice of plants, substituting less potent garden cultivars where possible.
This is a garden designed to entertain – not provide murderous opportunities!
The fruit stones of the Prunus family, for example, once processed, produce cyanide, used to lethal effect in “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side” and “A Pocketful of Rye” amongst others.  Monkshood and Foxgloves also play a big part, as do Poppies and Yellow Jasmine. Other plants however have a more positive purpose. A Kilmarnock Willow (aspirin) takes centre stage while Valerian and Fennel owe their inclusion to their reputed therapeutic benefits.”
For more on Torre Abbey~
*Royalty free images

Originally posted 2012-05-04 12:27:13. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Herbal Lore~Foxglove and Fairies

*These foxgloves are growing in a garden in Colonial Williamsburg.

Foxglove, also known as Digitalis: I’ve grown this beautiful flower/herb and used to have a spectacular stand of foxglove but they all died out one winter and I’ve had the dickens of a time getting new plants established.  Because foxglove is a biennial, it has to grow one season and survive the winter, the tricky part, and then resurrects the following spring and blooms in late spring/early summer.  If you’re fortunate the plants reseed and perpetuate themselves.  If not, you must begin again.  But it’s well worth growing.  I suspect our soil may be too heavy for foxglove and needs to be further lightened with compost.

From A Modern Herbal: Foxglove: POISON!

Other names: Witches’ Gloves. Dead Men’s Bells. Fairy’s Glove. Gloves of Our Lady. Bloody Fingers. Virgin’s Glove. Fairy Caps. Folk’s Glove. Fairy Thimbles. (Norwegian) Revbielde. (German) Fingerhut.

Part Used: Leaves.

Habitat: The Common Foxglove of the woods (Digitalis purpurea), perhaps the handsomest of our indigenous plants, is widely distributed throughout Europe and is common as a wild-flower in Great Britain, growing freely in woods and lanes, particularly in South Devon, ranging from Cornwall and Kent to Orkney, but not occurring in Shetland, or in some of the eastern counties of England.

Needing little soil, it is found often in the crevices of granite walls, as well as in dry hilly pastures, rocky places and by roadsides. Seedling Foxgloves spring up rapidly from recently-turned earth. Turner (1548), says that it grows round rabbit holes freely. The plant will flourish best in well drained loose soil, preferably of siliceous origin, with some slight shade. The plants growing in sunny situations possess the active qualities of the herb in a much greater degree than those shaded by trees, and it has been proved that those grown on a hot, sunny bank, protected by a wood, give the best results

Description: The normal life of a Foxglove plant is two seasons, but sometimes the roots, which are formed of numerous, long, thick fibers, persist and throw up flowers for several seasons. (*Though not here)

In the first year a rosette of leaves, but no stem, is sent up. In the second year, one or more flowering stems are thrown up, which are from 3 to 4 feet high, though even sometimes more, and bear long spikes of drooping flowers, which bloom in the early summer, though the time of flowering differs much, according to the locality.

The flowers are bell-shaped and tubular, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long, flattened above, inflated beneath, crimson outside above and paler beneath, the lower lip furnished with long hairs inside and marked with numerous dark crimson spots, each surrounded with a white border. The shade of the flowers varies much, especially under cultivation, sometimes the corollas being found perfectly white.

The Foxglove is a favourite flower of the honey-bee, and is entirely developed by the visits of this insect. Going from flower to flower up the spike, he rubs pollen thus from one blossom on to the cleft stigma of another blossom, and thus the flower is fertilized and seeds are able to be produced. The life of each flower, from the time the bud opens till the time it slips off its corolla, is about six days. An almost incredible number of seeds are produced, a single Foxglove plant providing from one to two million seeds to ensure its propagation. (*But it has to survive long enough to bloom, I must add.)

It is noteworthy that although the flower is such a favourite with bees and is much visited by other smaller insects, who may be seen taking refuge from cold and wet in its drooping blossoms on chilly evenings, yet no animals will browse upon the plant, perhaps instinctively recognizing its poisonous character.

The Foxglove derives its common name from the shape of the flowers resembling the finger of a glove. It was originally Folksglove – the glove of the ‘good folk’ or fairies, whose favourite haunts were supposed to be in the deep hollows and woody dells, where the Foxglove delights to grow. Folksglove is one of its oldest names, and is mentioned in a list of plants in the time of Edward III. Its Norwegian name, Revbielde (Foxbell), is the only foreign one that alludes to the Fox, though there is a northern legend that bad fairies gave these blossoms to the fox that he might put them on his toes to soften his tread when he prowled among the roosts.

The earliest known form of the word is the Anglo-Saxon foxes glofa (the glove of the fox).

The mottlings of the blossoms of the Foxglove and the Cowslip, like the spots on butterfly wings and on the tails of peacocks and pheasants, were said to mark where the elves had placed their fingers, and one legend ran that the marks on the Foxglove were a warning sign of the baneful juices secreted by the plant, which in Ireland gain it the popular name of ‘Dead Man’s Thimbles.’ In Scotland, it forms the badge of the Farquharsons, as the Thistle does of the Stuarts. The German name Fingerhut (thimble) suggested to Leonhard Fuchs (the well-known German herbalist of the sixteenth century, after whom the Fuchsia has been named) the employment of the Latin adjective Digitalis (from Digitabulum, a thimble) as a designation for the plant, which, as he remarked, up to the time when he thus named it, in 1542, had had no name in either Greek or Latin.

The Foxglove was employed by the old herbalists for various purposes in medicine, most of them wholly without reference to those valuable properties which render it useful as a remedy in the hands of modern physicians. Gerard recommends it to those ‘who have fallen from high places,’ and Parkinson speaks highly of the bruised herb or of its expressed juice for scrofulous swellings, when applied outwardly in the form of an ointment, and the bruised leaves for cleansing for old sores and ulcers. Dodoens (1554) prescribed it boiled in wine as an expectorant, and it seems to have been in frequent use in cases in which the practitioners of the present day would consider it highly dangerous.

Culpepper says it is of: ‘a gentle, cleansing nature and withal very friendly to nature. The Herb is familiarly and frequently used by the Italians to heal any fresh or green wound, the leaves being but bruised and bound thereon and the juice thereof is also used in old sores, to cleanse, dry and heal them. It has been found by experience to be available for the King’s evil, the herb bruised and applied, or an ointment made with the juice thereof, and so used…. I am confident that an ointment of it is one of the best remedies for a scabby head that is.’

Strangely enough, the Foxglove, so handsome and striking in our landscape, is not mentioned by Shakespeare, or by any of the old English poets.

(*I found this strange indeed, considering their lore and beauty.)

The earliest known descriptions of it are those given about the middle of the sixteenth century by Fuchs and Tragus in their Herbals. According to an old manuscript, the Welsh physicians of the thirteenth century appear to have frequently made use of it in the preparation of external medicines. Gerard and Parkinson advocate its use for a number of complaints, and later Salmon, in the New London Dispensatory, praised the plant. It was introduced into the London Pharmacopoeia in 1650, though it did not come into frequent use until a century later, and was first brought prominently under the notice of the medical profession by Dr. W. Withering, who in his Acount of the Foxglove, 1785, gave details of upwards of 200 cases, chiefly dropsical, in which it was used.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Digitalis has been used from early times in heart cases. It increases the activity of all forms of muscle tissue, but more especially that of the heart and arterioles, the all-important property of the drug being its action on the circulation. The first consequence of its absorption is a contraction of the heart and arteries, causing a very high rise in the blood pressure.

After the taking of a moderate dose, the pulse is markedly slowed. Digitalis also causes an irregular pulse to become regular. Added to the greater force of cardiac contraction is a permanent tonic contraction of the organ, so that its internal capacity is reduced, which is a beneficial effect in cases of cardiac dilatation, and it improves the nutrition of the heart by increasing the amount of blood.

Digitalis is an excellent antidote in Aconite poisoning, given as a hypodermic injection.

****

Of course the highly esteemed author Agatha Christie used foxglove in one of her mysteries.  From the Agatha Christie site: “The Herb of Death: Sir Ambrose’s dinner party is not going to plan.  Foxglove leaves, picked earlier that day, have made everyone ill and left the unfortunate Sylvia dead…”

Christie went back to one of her favourite murder methods in this story originally published in 1930 in Storyteller.  It is included in The Thirteen Problems.”

Originally posted 2010-04-22 13:51:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter