Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Nero’s favourite poison

Posted on by royvickery |

027The Power of Poison, an exhibition which originated at the American Museum of Natural History, is on show at the Old Truman Brewery,* Brick Lane, London, until 6 September 2015.  The exhibition contains includes live animals and will interest all but the very youngest. The basic message is that a continual arms race takes place in nature as plants and animals develop ever more effective poisons and ways of overcoming them. 

Dioramas of Macbeth’s Witches and Sleeping Beauty are included, and one section is devoted to famous poisoners.  Amongst these is Nero, Emperor of Rome from 54 – 68 A.D. He acquired many enemies, many of whom he disposed of using poison:

‘Cherry laurel [Prunus laurocerasus] water is believed to have been one of Nero’s favourites.  The cherry laurel tree contains cyanide  … Crushed leaves were soaked in water and the resulting liquid was served to unsuspecting victims.’

*The Old Truman Brewery is a complex of buildings and people who are unfamiliar with the area are advised to allow ample time to find the exhibition; its entrance is in Hanbury Street, just off Brick Lane.

Image: cherry laurel, cultivated, Geffrye Museum gardens, London Borough of Hackney; August 2015.

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