The Terrorist’s Favorite Weed/ Castor BeanWritten by Thomas Ogren
The Terrorist’s Favorite Weed/ Castor Bean
The Castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) with its large bold, highly colored leaves is native to tropical Africa. In cold climates it is an annual, growing quickly, setting many seeds, and dying off in winter. In mild winter areas it is a long-lived perennial, sometimes reaching small tree size. It has gone wild and naturalized in many places and is especially common in coastal areas. Each plant produces hundreds of bean-like seeds and these seeds can remain viable for more than a decade. Castor bean is a Euphorbia (Spurge) family member and like many Euphorbias it is poisonous, has highly caustic sap, and produces extremely allergenic pollen. Before World War Two castor bean was not common in US, grown mostly as an unusual foliage plant in a few gardens. But during war there was a need for castor oil and government encouraged farmers in Midwest to start growing large acreage of it as an oil seed crop. The first year it was grown not much happened but by end of second season huge numbers of people living near castor bean fields started getting hay fever and asthma. Castor bean pollen is an abundant and potent allergen. There is another more sinister use for castor bean. The mottled seeds of castor bean, which are about size and shape of large pinto beans, contain two powerful poisons, alkaloid ricinin and toxalbumin ricin. Ricin, a white protein powder is a remarkably deadly cytotoxin. The poison in seeds is so strong that eating a single seed can kill a child. Animals, horses in particular, that eat succulent leaves die from ricin poisoning. Ricin is even more toxic than strychnine and cyanides. Ricin also has ability to accumulate in body until a lethal dose is reached. Symptoms of ricin poisoning are stomachache, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, bloody diarrhea, cold sweat, sleepiness, disorientation, shortage of breath, seizures, and death.
Terrorists have long been enamored of castor bean and ricin. Modern day mad scientists can extract ricin from castor bean seeds. Just how poisonous is ricin? Ricin is one of most poisonous naturally occurring substances known to man. As little as one milligram of ricin can kill an adult.
Horticultural TherapyWritten by Thomas Leo Ogren
The idea of using gardens and plants as “tools” for therapy is growing fast these days. Makes perfect sense, too. There is a great deal of evidence that working in gardens is wonderful for our mental health. The relation between our mental health and our physical health is a close one. If we feel good about ourselves, about our families, our work, our friends, often our bodies will feel stronger too. Just being in a beautiful garden can make many of us feel better. Doing small chores in garden, deadheading roses, pulling weeds, planting some bulbs, fertilizing, all of these things have ability to make us feel good. In Persian language words “garden” and “heaven” are one and same. In our own lives so often we spend most of our time rushing here and rushing there. We spend way too much time stuck in front of computers, TV sets, stuck in rush hour traffic, doing things that may be necessary, but things that aren’t much fun, much less satisfying. But working in garden, that’s different, especially for those of us who really do love to garden. I recently came on some research data that suggests that more tuned into gardening a person is, more nurturing, creative, and compassionate that person will be. Again, this makes sense too. In garden we are free to experiment. In garden what we do actually does make a difference, a huge difference. Unlike so many things, more effort we put into our gardens, better they are. What is link between gardening and empathy for our fellow man? Could it be that gardening brings us closer to nature? That by getting in touch with Mother Nature, we are ourselves enriched? Probably so. But then too, there’s no doubt that type of people drawn to gardening in first place, may already have in them an extra dose of creativity and compassion. I used to work in a prison for juveniles. The CYA it was called, California Youth Authority. I started from scratch program there and over years program grew, gardens expanded, I learned new things and so did my wayward students. Most of my “boys” in CYA were gang members from Los Angeles area. Typically they were “in” for armed robbery, muggings, murder. Most of them, although they ranged in age from fifteen to twenty-five, most could barely read, and none had done any gardening. I designed our gardens to be therapeutic. We built a big brick barbecue so we could cook things we grew. We grew fruit trees, hundreds of them, so we’d have fresh fruit to eat. We put up bird feeders so we could attract and see birds in garden. We put up birdbaths, we made wind chimes, and we planted huge gardens of vegetables and flowers. In our gardens we grew things organically. I taught them to value frogs, toads, lizards, snakes as welcome additions to garden. We made huge piles of compost. About only form of punishment we used was, “turning compost heap.” We always had a radio to play some music to listen to while we worked. Deep, profound changes happened to many of these hardened criminals while working in garden. As they learned to hybridize roses they lost their desire to rob liquor stores. As they grew tomatoes big as your fist and watermelons big as beach balls, they became proud of their accomplishments. The more they learned about plants, less they were interested in crime. Many of these boys learned how to read, to do math, to write, and learned it all there in gardens, in greenhouses. I worked in CYA for twelve years. People in authority sometimes claimed that I bribed my “wards” and that I must be doing something illegal. They couldn’t understand how it was that these hoodlums could learn scientific names of hundreds of plants, that they actually learned to love to read, to love to garden. But I didn’t bribe boys; I just set up a garden with a healing atmosphere and then let it work its wonders. The right garden is a magical place. Plants are not judgmental. You take good care of them and they thrive. In garden our minds are free to wander, to daydream, to relax. Good things happen in good gardens. Why talk about horticultural therapy in a book devoted largely to allergy avoidance? The answer is simple. Gardening of itself can be very therapeutic, however, if garden is filled with plants that cause allergies, well, gardening experience won’t be that good. It is no fun to be sneezing and even less fun to have attacks of skin rashes or asthma. By making our gardens allergy-free we can avoid these negatives. The physical work done in gardens is also good for us, burning calories, making our muscles stronger. In right garden air is cleaner, too, refreshing our lungs as we work. If it makes sense to have a therapeutic garden be allergy-free, it also makes sense that gardening is food for soul, and happier we feel about life, quite often, better will be our health.