I’m one of the most toxic plants known. Every part of me contains powerfully poisonous substances, and you should definitely never eat my berries, which contain atropine.
Five berries are enough to make you very ill indeed: within a few hours you’ll suffer a dry mouth, stomach-ache, vomiting, fever and hallucinations. More than ten berries will kill you.
And I’m treacherous, too: my black berries look delicious, and taste quite sweet, so you don’t even know you just ate something deadly.
The Dutch physician and botanist Rembertus Dodonaeus wrote, and not for nothing, that I was a ‘quat ende doodelick cruyt’: an evil and deadly herb. It’s no accident that I’ve often been used as a murder weapon in the past.
Rumour has it that the Roman empress Livia Drusilla did away with her husband, the Emperor Augustus, by putting my poisonous sap inside some fresh figs.
And the last meal given to the Emperor Claudius, which was also prepared by his wife, contained my berries.
These sorts of gruesome poison murder stories are naturally a wonderful source of inspiration for whodunnits, and atropine regularly figures as the cause of death in detective novels by the ‘queen of crime’, Agatha Christie.