Botanical Curses and Poisons by Fez Inkwright

Botanical Curses and Poisons: the shadow lives of plants

Discover the fascinating folklore, lurid histories, and malignant properties of toxic plants.

‘If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison’, it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.’ – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Poisonings are among the most memorable deaths in history, from the Roman Empire to the Medieval era and beyond. Concealed and deliberate, it’s a crime that must be planned in advance. And yet there is a fine line between healing and poisoning – Paracelsus argued that only the dosage matters!

In Botanical Curses and Poisons, illustrator, author, and folklorist Fez Inkwright returns to archives to uncover the fascinating folklore, lurid histories, and untold stories behind deadly plants, witching herbs and fungi.

Filled with beautiful illustrations, this treasury of folklore is packed with insight, lore, and the revealed mysteries of everyday flora! Botanical Curses and Poisons is printed in hardcover with metallic foiling, a ribbon bookmark, black-and-white illustrations on nearly every page, and a wealth of folklore, history and poetry about the deadly plants within!

From the creator of Folk Magic and Healing (2019).

My review

This is an absolute treasure trove of a book, packed with truly fascinating – and horrifying! – information and beautiful illustrations. It incorporates botany, chemistry, botany, literature, social commentary – and that’s just scratching the surface.

It’s principally about the darker side of plants, their less nice characteristics – specifically, how some of them can kill us and don’t always need a helping hand from a human to do so. The legends and historical accounts of infamous poisoning cases that were carried out by assorted baddies are both macabre and truly riveting.

But it’s not all bad news as we do get to see some plants being used for healing too… but not always with the desired effect. For example, the doctrine of signatures was a misguided attempt to cure parts of the body with a plant that looked like the afflicted area. This proved to be disastrous in some instances.

We get to see wise women and witches, and examine the fine line between the two. Hedge witches, who used plants in lotions and potions, were treated with great suspicion and cruelty at the time of the Inquisition.

Then comes the kernel of the book. It’s an A-Z – well actually Y, but that’s near enough – of plants from all continents, their medicinal and deadly properties, details of where and how these are and have been used, topped off with legends and stories about them and the people who made use of them in one way or another.

The book finishes with a useful index and bibliography which make this a very complete reference work that’s handsome, educational and immensely enjoyable.


About the author

Fez Inkwright is an illustrator, author and folklorist. Her greatest passions are botany, nature, primitive religions, and folklore, which flavour most of her work. For the past eight years she has produced work for children’s books, hand-drawn maps and tattoo design and now spends her time indulging in conservation work and writing. She lives in Bristol with two cats and several hundred bees.


Gardening / Plants / Folklore & Myth / Herbal Remedies

ISBN 978-1-912634-22-4

£12.99 / $16.95 (USD) / $22.95 (CAN)

Hardback 224 pages 210 x 148 mm Black-and-white illustrations throughout

Published 7 January 2021