Before modern technological advancements in medicine, ailments were often treated simply with salves, teas, and tinctures made from locally grown herbs. But many of the plants used for healing could also be deadly poisons when prepared differently, taken in too high a dose, or sometimes just touched or smelled without precautions. As the old saying goes, "What doesn't kill you, cures you!" During the medieval era, castles, monasteries, and apothecaries would often grow their own gardens full of medicinal/poisonous plants. Today, there are several historical gardens around the world that take inspiration from this medieval tradition, though nowadays the poisonous plants are carefully labeled with prominent warning signs. Here are a few gardens around the world where you probably wouldn't want to stop and smell the flowers.
The Alnwick Garden (Northumberland, England)
This poison-themed plot on the grounds of the historic Alnwick Castle in Northumberland (which you may recognize from its appearance in the first two Harry Potter films) is one of the largest and most well-known poison gardens around the world. The garden was created in 2005 by Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland, to thrill and educate tourists. Its entrance is marked by a pair of black iron gates, each decorated with a large skull-and-crossbones and the words "These Plants Can Kill." Within the gates, you will find everything from native plants like laurel and belladonna to exotic Brugmansia flowers from South America. On top of that, the garden aims to educate kids about drugs by featuring cannabis, coca, and poppy—the plants that bring us marijuana, cocaine, and opium! The Alnwick Garden is a great place to look and learn, but don't get too close; some visitors have been known to faint after breathing in toxic fumes.
Blarney Castle Poison Garden (Cork, Ireland)
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland is kissing the Blarney Stone—a section of the battlements at the top of Blarney Castle that is said to impart the gift of the gab. But don't just kiss the stone and run off! The grounds of Blarney Castle have a lot to offer, from the haunted Witch Stone and giant Dolman to the magnificent poison garden. Though much smaller than the garden at Alnwick, it can still pack a punch. Some of the more dangerous plants like mandrake and wolfsbane are kept behind metal cages. Each plant is marked with a black sign bearing a skull-and-crossbones and detailed information about its dangers and historical uses. I actually visited this garden on my last trip to Ireland, and I have to say it was one of my favorite sites!
Orto Botanico di Padova (Padua, Italy)
The botanical garden in Padua is one of the original historic gardens that set off this trend. A Unesco World Heritage Site, the Orot Botanico di Padova is the world's oldest academic botanical garden that is still in its original site. It was created in 1545 by Benedictine monks with the approval of the Venetian government for the purpose of growing and studying medicinal plants. Today, you can visit the garden and see some of the plants that would have been grown there in the 16th century, as well as others that have been added as an update to this botanical library. The hazard level of each plant is designated with a nearby sign—two crosses indicate a plant that is seriously toxic and three crosses means it's lethal! The plants continue to be studied today by students at the University of Padua.
Would you visit a poison garden? Would you grow one? Let me know what you think in the comments!
Written By: TheGothicLibrarian