A gentleman at Guildford, some few years back, also, by making an experiment as he intended on himself, was poisoned by a small dose: he did not survive the taking it more than two hours.
In consequence of the above poisonous principle existing in the laurel, it has been recommended to persons to be cautious hwo they make use of the leaves of that shrub, which is a usual practice with cooks for giving flavour to custards, blanch-mange, and other made-dishes, lest the narcotic principle should be also conveyed, to the detriment of the health of persons who eat of them.
And the same may be said of the kernels of all stone-fruits; for the flavours given to noyau, ratafia, and other liquors which are highly prized by epicures, are all of them derived from the same principle as laurel-water, and which, on chemical investigation, is found to be prussic acid. This exists in considerable quantities in the bitter almond, and which when separated proves to be the most active poison known, to the human as well as all other animal existence. This principle, and its mode of extraction, should not be made more public than the necessity of scientific research requires. We cannot with propriety accuse either this tree or the laurel as being poisonous, because the ingenuity of mankind has found out a mode of extracting this active acidulous principle, and which is so very small in proportion to the wholesome properties of the fruit, as not to be suspected of any danger but for this discovery. As well might we accuse wheat of being poisonous, because it yields on distillation brandy, which has been known to kill many a strong-bodied fellow who has indulged in this favourite beverage to excess. An eminent chemist informs me, that he has made experiments with the oxalic acid, and found that when this was also concentrated, it has similar effects; insomuch that no animal can contain a grain of it if taken into the throat or stomach: and thus might we also be led to consider the elegant, and in itself harmless, wood-sorrel, as a poisonous plant.
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These should be attacked by strong decoctions of oak-bark, gall-nuts, and Peruvian bark; after which soft mucilaginous matters should be used, as milk, fat broth, or emulsions.
628. Aconitum Napelhus. Blue monkshood.—This is a very poisonous plant; and many instances have been adduced of its dangerous effects.
It has probably obtained the name of Wolfsbane, from a tradition that wolves, in searching for particular roots which they in part subsist upon in winter, frequently make a mistake, and eat of this plant, which proves fatal to them.
A weaver in Spitalfields, having supped upon some cold meat and salad, was suddenly taken ill; and when the surgeon employed upon this occcasion visited him, he found him in the following situation:—“He was in bed, with his head supported by an assistant, his eyes and teeth were fixed, his nostrils compressed, his hands, feet, and forehead cold, no pulse to be perceived, his respiration short, interrupted, and laborious.”