My membership at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is so useful to me. I do a great deal of research for my books at the different exhibits and I was able to make a long visit at the Poison exhibit when it was in town. I haven’t planned on any of my characters using poison to off another character but I never know when information will come in handy. I try to take advantage of opportunities like the Museum’s special exhibits and I have a growing file full of bits of information I find interesting.
This exhibit was one of the best I’d visited. I spent hours wandering through the displays, trying to stay out of the way of other museum goers while I took copious notes. An avid mystery reader, I’ve been aware of how various plants can be deadly in the right doses. As someone who lives on a plant-based diet, I pay close attention to the fact that some plants are both edible and deadly, depending on what part of the plant is used. I couldn’t wait to find out what more this exhibit could teach me.
I was not surprised at the presence of foxglove at the exhibit. Agatha Christie’s books first introduced me to the fact that digitalis, derived from foxglove, could be beneficially used by people with heart problems and as a deadly poison by those with nefarious purposes. It’s such a beautiful plant and I marvel at how something so beautiful can be at once to useful and so deadly.
Books also introduced me to cassava, a staple among some cultures. What I did not know is that cassava contains cyanide and can be deadly. It is only dried and ground into flour that it can be safely used; something that may end up in a book someday.
I was not fully aware of the part plants have played in the medical field and this aspect of the exhibit was fascinating. I know of curare being used as a poison but had no idea it was used as an anesthetic. It’s effect wasn’t fully understood and I’m thankful I’ve never been subjected to a surgical procedure under its influence. However, according to the exhibit, curare can be used as an antidote for strychnine poisoning. If I can ever come up with a valid reason why one of my characters would have curare on hand and then be poisoned by strychnine, I’m using this.
I learned that an extract of the yew tree is still being used as a cancer treatment, although it’s made synthetically now because of the ecological cost. I thought it amazing that a derivative of yew bark could help treat cancer and was curious what other plants were being studied.. I learned that scientists were turning to plants like sweet wormwood and the opium poppy in search of medicinal uses. And, scientists aren’t just studying plants but animals as well.
What makes a person look for cancer treatment in the venom of the Deathstalker Scorpion? Pain relief in the venom of a black mamba? Can the monocled cobra point researchers to a new arthritis drug or the Brazilian pit viper reveal an ACE inhibitor? I took my notes, went home, and began googling. Sure enough, the exhibit wasn’t lying to me: these animals and many more and being looked at for everything from tumor paint to anticoagulants.
I learned so much from this exhibit though I don’t know how much of it I’ll be using in the series I’m currently writing. Still, I have all sorts of ideas for stories to write when I’ve finished this series. I like knowing my file of facts is there for the gleaning.
Note: My title is also the title of a mystery by Georgette Heyer. Want to know what was used? You’ll have to read it!