How I could have been a juvenile delinquent…

It happened in the seventies and his name was Tony.

I could have been a juvenile criminal. A murderer even… I am not kidding! I don’t remember the exact year this happened, but it happened. Really.

There was a boy in our neighbourhood that my sister and I found very annoying. Let’s call him Tony. Today, I don’t remember why he was so irritating. I think he was a bit clingy and wanted to be friends with us. So one summer evening, after he came calling at the house (God knows why, we never really wanted to associate with him), we decided he should die. That would get him out of our hair for good. Weren’t we the cute little pairs of angels!

As we were discussing how to do this, what came to mind was poison. We had read books about it and saw movies. It was the perfect solution. Tony was on the chubby side and he loved to eat. We went into our garden and saw that some of the flowers were blossoming. We figured: why don’t we crush up the flower petals, mix them with water, and offer them to him as lemonade. We were sure he would accept it… And then he would die. Simple and perfect.

Drinking the lemonade

The next time he came around the the house, we asked if he wanted something to drink. Of course he said yes, he was delighted to finally get an invite from us! And we were ready for him. The lemonade had been freshly made and both of us watched breathlessly as he emptied the glass. My sister and I looked at each other and chuckled excitedly behind our hands. He liked it so much, that he asked for more.

That is when we were starting to doubt our adventure. What if the flowers were in fact poisonous? What if it would make him really sick? Or worse: what if he would in fact die! What if they found out it was us and we would go to jail? We whispered to each other worriedly and told Tony to go home. No more lemonade.

That evening, after we were sent off to bed, we became very afraid that we would hear, the next day, that Tony had died. And of course, the police would find out that we were the culprits. And we would spend the rest of our lives in prison… Suffice it to say we did not sleep well that night. To my recollection, this incident happened in a weekend. So the likelihood of finding out about Tony the next day was very small. The next Monday we dragged our feet to school. Our ears were tuned into every group of people that we saw talking to each other. Had they heard about Tony being sick? Or worse…?

And then came relief. We spotted Tony on the playground of our elementary school. He looked perfectly healthy! He was alive! The instant he saw us, he came asking about the lemonade, because it was so good. He would really like to have some more. All of our worries had been in vain! He had survived!

We only told our parents many, many years later and they were aghast that we had had the audacity to even contemplate such a thing!

Just in case you were wondering which plant we used: roses. In the Indonesian culture petals of roses are used to make a lemonade sirup named ‘Susu’. A delicatessen and completely innocent… 🙂 And the boy in the picture is just stock material – this is not the real Tony…

The power of plants

As an adult I have always been very interested in the power of plants. And I know now that what we did could have easily gone very, very wrong… And I know this from personal experience…

When I was in my early thirties, I was into active vacations. One time I went trekking with a group of people through the mountains of the High Atlas in southern Morocco. When we stayed in a small city in the middle of nowhere, I discovered this tiny store filled up with all sorts of herbs and spices. Super fascinating. I managed to negotiate a good deal and bought an ancient set of mini scales with weights. At the time, I was not sleeping very well and I suffered from regular migraines; and I asked if he had something that would help me with that. He sure did: unbeknownst to me, he sold me a handful of pure white papaver somniferum seedpods… A.k.a: Opium. I thought that they were regular poppy seed pods, a close relative of the poppy, that is said to help with insomnia and pain. I never used them on that trip and that was very fortunate, as I found out later back home…. I was equally fortunate that the dogs at the airport did not sniff them out, because that would have guaranteed trouble! But the story is not over yet… keep reading!

I had a slip-and-slide injury that winter, that cause a hair fracture in my pelvic bone. It was extremely painful and even after 2 weeks I could barely get up and down the stairs. My mom came to stay with me to look after me for a while. On the evening she was traveling back home, I decided the time had come to try that Moroccan remedy for sleep and pain. “Are you sure?!”, said my mother, who did not entirely trust my herbal knowledge. “Don’t worry”, I told her, “I am just going to try one cup of tea with the stuff. It probably does not work anyway.”

So I measured a normal portion in my hand for tea, boiled the water, poured it on the seedpods and sipped from the concoction while watching TV. Around 10pm, the television started to go out of focus. The house started to move and turn. “Ah!”, I thought, “That stuff is starting to work! Good! I will go to bed then.”

Two hours later I woke up, bathing in sweat. The whole house was now moving, I felt really weird. I looked down at my body and noticed that… my hands had disappeared. I only had stumps with no hands. I freaked out! “It must be because of that tea”, I thought. It was hard to ‘hear’ my own thoughts: my ears were ringing. My heartbeat was extremely slow. Maybe 30 beats to a minute. And I suddenly became aware that I was barely breathing. I counted the seconds between two breaths and more than a minute went by easily without any urge to draw a new breath. What was going on?! I was starting to panic.

I got myself out of bed and went to the bathroom to look at my reflection. My face was very red and I looked…. weird. I stumbled to my computer and opened the database that I had been updating for years with all of my herbal knowledge. I had lots of books and had dumped a lot of the plants and remedies into that database. I had a feeling that I had not been drinking tea from poppy seedpods. It might have been opium. A close relative of the poppy. With a completely different effect. When the database entry opened up on ‘poppy’, I saw 2 entries. One was for the normal poppy. The next one showed a skull. And a warning in red: poisonous – death by respiratory arrest. WHAT?!

I read the symptoms of an overdose and I had them all. I had the wherewith-all to call a good friend who was a herbal specialist. Her son answered the phone and when I asked to talk to her, he told me there was no need to shout… the ringing in my ears had become so loud that I had to talk over it. But I was not aware I was shouting… I told my friend what had happened, and she almost pissed herself in laughter. She told me that, since I was still alive, I would be OK and that It should just take 2 days to wear off… She convinced me to go back to bed and sleep it off.

It was a very strange experience. My mind knew that my hands were in tact. But when I looked at them, I just saw the stumps. I made myself breathe more regularly, it was not fun having to do that. There was one huge advantage of the whole thing: I had no back pain at all for those two days!

We live and learn (apparently)

This is not the end of it… the story continues!

Not long after I was working with a new manager. She and I were not exactly best friends, but I truly worked hard to get into her good books. She knew about my fascination with herbal remedies. One day, she asked if I knew of a natural remedy for insomnia. The memory of that Moroccan seed pod immediately flashed through my head. But I instantly also saw Tony’s face and thought back to my own experience with the African seedpods. And I told her that, “I am really sorry, I can’t think of a remedy off the top of my hat…”

We live and learn, after all…