The Poison Chronicles: Calabar Bean – A Life-Saving Ordeal

Another of my posts on the Manchester Museum Herbarium blog, on when an ordeal can become a remedy.

Herbology Manchester

calabar-bean-1 Calabar beans and seed cases from the collection of the Manchester Museum Herbarium. 

Guest Post by Laura Cooper

For much of human history, people have sought to find a way to prove or disprove a person’s guilt. Today, we hope evidence and a fair trial will do this, but people have always wanted a quick and definitive way of doing this. This is where the idea of the trial by ordeal came in. Most people are familiar with the practice of dunking suspected witches in bodies of water in parts of 17th century Europe; if they floated they were guilty and if they sunk they were innocent. But in what was then called the Calabar region (now North-East Nigeria) in the 19th century, a particularly poisonous seed was used in these trials by ordeal. This plant, known as the Calabar bean, Physostigma venenosum, became notorious as a…

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Author: Laura Cooper

I'm a gap-year student living in the UK, and I have a principle interest in the life sciences and here will be exploring these sciences with a historical, sociological and philosophical perspective. I want to know more about the social and philosophical underpinnings of scientific concepts and to explore their etiology, adoption and development in a holistic manner. Having a good knowledge of these fundamental principles behind scientific ideas is important for scientists to see scientific ideas as malleable things that can be questioned if inadequate, as well as for the non-scientist to appreciate science as a humanistic enterprise which is shaped by our basic human interests.

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