Dangerous Garden by David Stuart: Quest for Plants to Change Our Lives

by DerdriuMarriner

Dangerous Garden by David Stuart describes the quest for plants to access gods, change lives, end disease and pain, enhance sex, expand minds, and kill.

Dangerous Gardens contain cure-all, do-nothing, feel-good, poisonous beauties

Dangerous Garden by author, botanist, columnist, gardener, and nurseryman David Stuart acknowledges individual significance and societal impacts from the quest for plants to:

• access gods;
• change lives;
• drive sex;
• end disease and pain;
• expand minds;
• kill.

The 2004 release begins with an introduction to two of 10,000-plus world-renowned medicinal plants. The Harvard University Press publication considers:

• the placebo effect of justified or unjustified beliefs in curers and cures since the time of Roman imperial physician Galen (129 – 199?);
• the recorded uses of rhubarb, from Roman aphrodisiac to Medieval plague-fighter to sixteenth-century ague and syphilis remedies to twenty-first century late-spring pie-filling;
• the twentieth-century vetting of cancer, convulsion, paralysis-causing colchicine in arthritis and gout-prescribed, saffron-flavored, stimulating autumn crocus (Colchicum).


Website: http://www.david-stuart.co.uk/dangerous.html


Modern statue honors Galen of Bergama (Pergamum), 2nd century CE Greek physician/philosopher/surgeon:

Identifying plant remedies for his pharmaceutical formulations numbers among Galen's many contributions to contributions.
Bergama, İzmir Province, western Anatolian peninsula, western Turkey
Bergama, İzmir Province, western Anatolian peninsula, western Turkey

Dangerous Gardens derail no afflictions other than malaria


Chapter One describes ineffectively attacking epidemics of:

  • bubonic plague by devil’s bit scabious, dog’s mercury, gold-crowned blessed thistle, laser-wort, Madonna lily, mallow, nettles, opium-poppy, rue, saltpeter, valerian, willow-gentian, yellow monkshood;  
  • HIV by aloe vera, pau d’arco, purple coneflower;
  • leprosy by alkanet, calamint, cannabis, cashew nut, choulmoogra, darnell grass, dodder, euphorbia, frankincense, garden anemone, neem, opium, spikenard, tamarind;
  • malaria by febrifuges, hemp, neem, qat.

The second chapter explains bolstering organs with:

  • belladonna for vision;
  • foxglove for heart;
  • licorice, rest-harrow, sweet cicely, vetch for respirations;
  • wormwoods for digestion.

Chapter Three finds controlling pain on the treatment agenda of:

  • aconite;
  • chamomile, Chinese lanterns;
  • feverfew;
  • galbanum, golden-berry;
  • hemp, henbane;
  • jaborandi;
  • meadowsweet, mountain-peony;
  • night-blooming cactus;
  • opium-poppy;
  • tormentil;
  • white poplar, willow;
  • yellow-flowering rhododendron. 


Atropa belladonna, known commonly as belladonna or deadly nightshade, is a dangerous plant with beneficial and toxic qualities.

Historically Italian women used belladonna berry juice cosmetically for pupil dilation, which was considered seductive but which also could cause vision problems or blindness via prolonged use. As atropine, belladonna is still used today in Ophthalmology.
eye examination: portions of retina as seen through undilated pupil and dilated pupil
eye examination: portions of retina as seen through undilated pupil and dilated pupil

Dangerous Gardens encourage aphrodisiacs, elixirs, hallucinogens, pain-killers, poisons


 The fourth chapter gives as jump-starting or sustaining aphrodisiacs:

  • Chinese foxglove;
  • ephedra;
  • frankincense;
  • mandrake, myrrh;
  • nutmeg;
  • queen-of-the-night cactus;
  • sarsaparilla;
  • yohimbe.

Chapter Five has as euthanistic/fatal options:

  • aconite;
  • belladonna;
  • comfrey;
  • hemlock, hemp, henbane;
  • Madagascar periwinkle, mandrake, mushrooms;
  • opium-poppy;
  • poison-nut, pokeweed;
  • ragwort;
  • Saint John’s wort, senna;
  • thorn-apple, thorough-wort.

The sixth chapter identifies reversing, slowing or stopping biological clocks through reliance upon:

  • almond oil, black briony, linseed oil, olive oil, rosemary for skin health;
  • aniseed, antimony, coriander, fennel, sarsaparilla for weight control;
  • brown-eyed rockrose, linseed, reeds, southern nettle for hair volume;
  • crinum lily, daffodil, fenugreek, mastick, shea, walnut oil, white briony for wrinkle amelioration and prevention;
  • ginseng for healthy longevity;
  • greater celandine, nettle-tree, savin, tormentil for wart prevention and removal. 


Pretty comfrey (Symphylum spp.) is popular in folk medicine and as cultivated or wild plant; US FDA banned its consumption because of dangerous amounts of naturally occurring alkaloids (hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids) which may cause liver failure:

Famed remedies of common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) in European folk medicine accompanied the Old World's introduction into the New World.
Las Sołtysowicki (Sołtysowicki Forest), northeastern Wrocław, western Poland
Las Sołtysowicki (Sołtysowicki Forest), northeastern Wrocław, western Poland

Dangerous Gardens furnish effective painkillers, placebos, poisons, psychedelics


Chapter Seven juxtaposes as mind-expanders:

  • cannabis, coca;
  • ephedra;
  • guarana, gum rock-rose;
  • hemp, hoodia;
  • peony;
  • qat;
  • Saint John’s wort, snakeroot;
  • tobacco.

The eighth chapter keeps the focus on mind-related treatments through such hallucinogens as:

  • ayahuasca;
  • bindweed;
  • cannabis, castor oil, Christmas cactus, coyote cactus;
  • kava-kava;
  • morning glory;
  • peyote, prickly pear cactus;
  • sage, San Pedro four-winds cactus, sesame, snuff, sweet potato;
  • thorn-apple;
  • virola;
  • wood-rose.

Concluding pages lead into observations on adaptive, defensive, survivalist agenda behind human-interpreted evil, human-perceived good whereby plants sustain life cycles and natural histories.

Appended acknowledgments, bibliographies, and indices manage repeated access to Dangerous Garden’s culturally enriching, educationally entertaining, and geo-historically enthralling images and information whose real-time configuration simultaneously yields cure-all, do-nothing, feel-good, must-have, watch-out floral beauties. 


Dangerous Garden: The Quest for Plants to Change Our Lives by David Stuart ~ Available now via Amazon

Botanist and gardener David Stuart presents double-edged plants of botanical medicine: plant-based remedies as not only soothing and curative but also enslaving and killing.
dangerous plant products



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


berries, flowers, and foliage of deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), also known as belladonna:

a plant with a dangerous beauty
July: Poland, central Europe
July: Poland, central Europe

Sources Consulted


Stuart, David. 2004. Dangerous Garden: The Quest for Plants to Change Our Lives. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 


Echinopsis pachanoi (planted by driveway): San Pedro cactus has been used in Andean Mountain regions for healing and religious divination for 3 millennia:

San Pedro cactus contains mescaline, naturally occurring alkaloid hallucinogen ~ Cultivation of San Pedro cactus in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and United States is legal as an ornamental but illegal for consumption.
Luala‘ilua Hills, Maui
Luala‘ilua Hills, Maui
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Photo Jigsaw Puzzle Of Poisonous Plants ~ illustrations of Deadly Nightshade (Atropa Belladonna); Fool's Parsley (Aethusa Cynapium); Henbane (Hyoscyamus Niger); Mezereon (Daphne Mezereum); Thorn Apple (Datura Stramonium) ~ Available now via Amazon

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle artwork 5x7 affixed to box top.
dangerous plant products

Poisonous Beauties - Belladonna by Jasmine Becket-Griffith: Framed ~ from Amanti Art ~ Available now via Amazon

Custom built: Antique bronze wood frame with embellished design and green patina
dangerous plant products

Poisonous Beauties - Belladonna by Jasmine Becket-Griffith (born June 4, 1979) ~ Available as Art Print ~ Available now via AllPosters

Print of acrylic painting debuted by Jasmine Becket-Griffith (born June 4, 1979) at Sarasota Medieval Fair 2011 ~ 1st installment in Poisonous Beauties series featuring portraits of faery creatures and various poisonous plants.
Poisonous Beauties I Belladonna

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 11/13/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 03/02/2019

WriterArtist, Thank you for appreciating Dangerous Garden. It's a beautiful, excellent read that I consult a lot, frequently, often. It's a way of avoiding repetitions of the tragedy of plant misidentification that's the subject of Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild and Sean Penn's subsequent film.

WriterArtist on 02/28/2019

It is amazing to see how many plant species are poisonous. It takes quite some time to see the aftermath of certain plants, toxic levels can make the difference. Many of these poisonous plants can and are used in medicine but it is always good to know which plants are safe for the home garden. An eye opener, this book certainly is good to have for gardeners.

DerdriuMarriner on 11/13/2018

katiem2, Thank you for the visit and the appreciation of the book. I love my copy and refer to it all the time. Should you write another children's book about your redhead who likes herself, and if that book is about green roofs, then this would be an excellent resource on what NOT to have in her garden.

katiem2 on 11/09/2018

I sometimes wonder anytime I see a cat or dog chewing on plants out of doors. This is a practical bit of information, thank you for the careful research.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/04/2018

frankbeswick, Please accept my apologies for the delay ... and the misinformation.
The Food & Drug Administration, not the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2001, not 2007, advised against external and internal use of comfrey, respectively on open wounds and because of cancer and liver damage.
I don't seem to be able to access the advisory even though I have the source information: FDA. 2001. FDA advises dietary supplement manfacturers to remove comfrey products from the market. USFDA, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
A 2005-released study -- Mutagenicity of comfrey (Symphytum Officinale) in rat liver, by N Mei, L. Guo, PP Fu, RH Heflich and T Chen -- in the British Journal of Cancer 92(5): 873-875 -- gives the FDA URL, which does not bring it up, at least for me.
The above-mentioned study likewise lists in its bibliography Rode, D. November 2002. Comfrey toxicity revisited. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 23(11): 497-499. The latter notes that "The conclusion that comfrey is not safe for internal use in humans is primarily based on studies in which high levels of purified PAs [pyrrolizidine alkaloids] were administered to rodents.Systematic toxicity testing or clinical trials have not been performed. Although PA poisoning in humans can occur, this is most commonly a consequence of consumption of plants other than comfrey." She suggests that "Clearly, the risk of hepatic damage during treatment with comfrey will be influenced by its source, the amount consumed, the duration of treatment, and the health and nutritional status of the patient." Rode states that low-protein diets facilitate the PA toxicity that high-protein diets minimize.

frankbeswick on 09/01/2018

Thanks Derdriu.I await your response.As one who suffered liver disease as a child I have to be careful.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/01/2018

frankbeswick, The fuss happened about 10 years ago because of liver damage from ingestion. But the USDA then also mentioned that external applications can be problematic near or on broken skin. I will check and get back about this since I'm writing from memory, without specifics at hand.

Mira on 09/01/2018


frankbeswick on 09/01/2018

My doctor recommended comfrey oil for my troubled knee joints, and it has been beneficial when rubbed in. What was the USDA warning about it?

DerdriuMarriner on 08/31/2018

Mira, Me neither, I don't watch much television.
Elementary is considered an American series even though there is U.K. involvement, most noticeably with English actor Jonny Lee Miller as a Sherlock Holmes updated to 21st-century New York City. I like the way that it's so educationally entertaining, with episodes on animals, artwork, fossils and plants.

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