Doll's Eyes

Doll's Eyes

26 August 2013

Daffodils. Dog's tooth violets. Joe Pye Weed. Yellow foxglove. Wild bergamot. We tend to be tolerant of weeds, preferring to look on them as free plants until they prove themselves otherwise. (This attitude underwent a distinct trial by fire when it came to garlic mustard; still, we tend to take the attitude that it's only a weed when it's growing where we don't want it.)

Doll's eyes (baneberries) were one of these pleasant surprises. Both its aesthetic value and its medicinal value have been hotly disputed, with their flowers being dismissed as "insignificant" by some writers, while being prized as "feathery clusters" by others. Herbalists such as Maude Grieve claim that baneberry was an important Native American medicinal herb, used to treat issues as diverse as heart problems, menstrual issues, and rattlesnake bites. However, many have argued that the cure is as dangerous as the cause, citing the plant's hallucinogenic qualities.

Those qualities are said to be concentrated in the plant's berries, which are, admittedly, kind of creepy - in a good way, of course. But are they hallucinogenic? In 1903, a gardener named Alice E. Bacon set out to answer that question in what can only be assumed to be a purely scientific spirit. According to her article, "An Experiment with Red Baneberry," in the 1903 volume of Rhodora, she took increasing amounts of the berries until she could firmly report "intense hallucinogenic displays with various blue shapes followed by confusion, incoherence, and dizziness." Have we tried the same? No. Really. We mean it. Just like we've never licked the datura or tried to distill the witches' flying ointment from our hellebore... purely experimentally, of course.

© - Erica Obey
Photos © - George Baird