Deadliest Poisons In History

Killing someone with poison—and getting away with it—requires precise planning, cunning, and subterfuge, as well as a certain creativity, intelligence, and finesse to pull off successfully. That’s horrifying. So are all those adjectives! Deadliest poisons in history could be an encyclopedia, and maybe it is. I went down a deep, dark rabbit hole to write this post and came up, more intrigued than ever!

Best science blog for kids
Louie would never kill anyone

You can blame ‘Criminal Minds’ reruns. We started watching it, yes, 15 seasons behind the rest of the world. Pushing my initial horror aside, sneaky, horrific crimes intrigued me. I am also intrigued by science. Poisons came to mind. Poisons have been alongside us throughout history. 


The strong connection between man and nature, including poisons, takes us back to ancient times. Prehistoric people applied poison to spears for hunting animals. We don’t know if they turned their poisoned sticks toward each other.

Poisons throughout history first manmade poison found
Traces of poison on sticks dating 24,000 years ago make the artifacts the oldest manmade poison found

We do know that in 399 B.C., when Socrates was found guilty of heresy, a tribunal sentenced him to ‘death by hemlock.’

Deadly poisons from plants
Conium maculatum or poison hemlock is acutely toxic to people and animals. All parts of the plant are poisonous.
Deadliest poisonous plants
Socrates died from poison hemlock

Hemlock is nothing to sneeze at but it’s not the king of poisons.


From the time of the Roman Empire through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, until modern toxicology found a way to detect arsenic in the deceased, arsenic ruled as the king of poisons.


Arsenic is a metallic element. It's found in small amounts in air, water, and soil. Poisoners had access to it, because arsenic tags along as ore in lead and iron mines.
Arsenic poisoning is difficult to detect because the symptoms initially mimic food poisoning.
Acute poisoning causes stomach cramps, diarrhea, confusion, convulsions, vomiting, and death. (no one wants that!)
Previous slide
Next slide
Deadly Poison
Arsenic element # 33 and poisonous!
Classic Poisons Guide
Arsenic gray metalloid


When Cleopatra decided to end her life, she wanted to ensure a painless death & leave a lovely corpse.
She tested arsenic on her slaves and watched the results.
After watching her slaves die horrifically from arsenic, she opted for an asp.
Also unpleasant and her corpse may have needed a touch up, but not the topic of this post!
No thanks!
Nero used it to poison his 13-year-old stepbrother, thus ensuring he would remain emperor of Rome.
I doubt he cared about the state of his stepbrother’s corpse!
When Nero killed himself to escape capture and torture, do you think he used arsenic?
No way, he used a dagger.
The Borgias are famous for their use of arsenic, dispatching many a cardinal and pope in their rise to power in the 15th century.
If they were so feared and known as poisoners, why did anyone go to their dinner parties?
Perhaps the most famous victim of arsenic was Napoleon Bonaparte.
He fell ill when in exile on Saint Helena. Doctors thought he had a stomach ulcer. In the 1970s, traces of arsenic were found in Napoleon’s hair.
Previous slide
Next slide


Arsenic compounds aka arsenates (AsO4 3- ) are structurally similar to phosphates (PO 4 3- ). The body can’t distinguish between the two.
Phosphates form many vital roles in biology, from strengthening bones to forming the backbone of DNAs double helix.
The way arsenic kills: It slides into the phosphate unit of ATP. ATP is vital for all of our cells in transferring & storing energy. Arsenic slows this to a halt.
ATP molecule
Arsenic also messes w/ chemical reactions in the body carried out by enzymes. Enzymes are large protein molecules, strings of amino acids, that have precise shapes to carry out their function.
Think of this as a lock and key mechanism
Enzymes are the key that fits into the cell's lock and gets things going.
Some enzymes contain sulfur. When arsenic takes the slot reserved for sulfur, it distorts the shape of the enzyme. This means the enzyme will no longer fit into the lock.
More on sulfur
Previous slide
Next slide

Compared to organic poisons, metallic elements don’t break down quickly. This means arsenic can be detected years later in a victim’s hair and fingernails.

It also slows decomposition, creating unnervingly lifelike corpses. (Nope, no photo, this post is unnerving enough!)

Okay, the corpses looked horrific. The problem was that no one could prove that arsenic was the cause of death.

Doctors and chemists had no way to detect it at a crime scene or in a corpse.


Arsenic remained the king of poisons, virtually undetectable in a corpse until chemist  James Marsh developed a method to detect it in body tissues in 1836! 

The Marsh Test

In 1851 in the United Kingdom, a law passed called The Arsenic Act, stating that arsenic had to be colored with indigo or soot. This was in response to the alarming number of accidental (or deliberate) poisonings due to its lack of color.

Murder by arsenic became rarer because, at last, it left a detectable trace at the crime scene. The King was dead.


The King of Poisons is Dead
Arsenic was dead

If arsenic is the king of poisons, wolfsbane is its queen.


Monkshood, or Aconitum variegatum is considered the most poisonous plant in Europe. (The genus aconitum grows all over the northern hemisphere!)

Monkshood was already in our yard when we moved in. Our voracious bunnies and deer don’t touch the monkshood in our garden. Now we know why! (good thing I always wear gardening gloves!)

Monkshood Fall blooming flowers
Wolfsbane in our garden
Princess of Poisons
Queen of Poisons? Maybe say no to that cupcake...

In ancient Greece, myths state that when Hercules wrestled with the three-headed dog, Cerberus, the animal’s saliva fell to the ground. Monkshood sprouted.

This poisonous plant contains a potent alkaloid called aconitine. Aconitine is everywhere in monkshood, flowers, leaves, stems, and roots. 


Alkaloids are naturally occurring molecules composed of nitrogen and carbon. Alkaloids usually have a ring structure, which includes at least one nitrogen atom.

Alkaloids are found in living things. Aka organic. They are bases so accept hydrogen ions from other compounds. Most alkaloids are isolated from plants. Morphine and its derivatives are used as pain medication and quinine treats malaria.

Not all alkaloids are bad!
Most poisonous plant
Queen of Poisons_ Aconitine organic compound and alkaloid

Historically, aconitine was used to hunt animals, the Aleuts for whales, in Japan to hunt bear and somewhere hunting wolves, which is how ‘wolfsbane’ got the name.

Later the common name changed to ‘monkshood,’ as it resembled hoods that monks wore in the middle ages. Yes, the flower resembles monks’ hoods but what about the death element?


When any part of the plant is ingested or absorbed via the skin, the aconitine goes to work.  

Aconitine binds to receptors that help regulate the muscle cells’ sodium-ion channels.
The channel opens and sodium ions flood in, causing nerves to fire or heart cells to contract.
The problem with aconitine is that it keeps the channels open. The nerve cells and heart cells never get a break.
The cells are stuck in a state of “open.”
This creates a speedy, irregular heartbeat.
Other symptoms are a burning sensation on the tongue, numbness and tingling from those poor nerve cells continuing to fire. Pupils dilate, numbness, coldness, and paralysis set in. (NOT GOOD)
Previous slide
Next slide

A dose of 1-2 mg of aconitine is fatal. That’s 0.00007055 of an ounce. Aconitine qualifies as one of the deadliest poisons in history.  This is a SERIOUS poison. (What poison isn’t?)


Aconitine is not often used in murder but finding trace amounts of it in tissue postmortem (after death) is no easy task. Aconitine also has the untraceable mystique!

“Murder most foul,” wrote Shakespeare of the poisoning of Hamlet’s father. During that time period, poison was a common method of murder. Shakespeare also used poison as a metaphor in many of his plays. 

In one scene, King Henry IV advises his underlings to speak gently “… Mingled with venom of suggestion–As, force perforce, the age will pour it in–
Shall never leak, though it do work as strong as aconitum…”

I’m not a Shakespeare expert, but in this verse, aconitum (aconitine)  is as an analogy about harsh words doing harm.

That’s true but I’m more worried about the poison.

Shakespeare referenced poisons often
Shakespeare often referenced poisons

In 1882, George Henry Lamson was hanged after being found guilty of murdering his crippled brother-in-law for his inheritance. At that time, aconitine was an untraceable poison. Lamson didn’t cover his tracks, however.  Police found raisins in Lamson’s cake, eaten by the deceased, laced with aconitine.

Deadliest Poisons in History
This cake has no raisins

Severus Snape used aconitine in a potion he made for Remus Lupin, to keep him from violence during his monthly wolf transformation. So if you have any werewolf friends, you could look into this.


Untraceable Poisons

Let’s move on, not to the half-blood prince, but to the prince of poisons. The Evil Prince.


In keeping with our royal classification, let’s look at a  poison perpetrator. William Palmer is dubbed Prince of Poisoners.

William Palmer was a womanizer and gambler. The first suspicious death was that of his mother-in-law.
Yes, I'm rolling my eyes, too.
A total of 14 deaths are attributed to his actions.
Five of them were his infant children!
November, 1855: Palmer and a friend, John Cook attended a three-day horse racing event. Cook won a large amount of money. Palmer lost heavily.
That night, Cook and Palmer had a celebration party. The next day, Cook complained of feeling ill, but this was attributed to the brandy.
The next day, Palmer invited Cook to dinner. Cook became violently ill...again! So did the chambermaid who'd sampled the broth Cook consumed.
Why was she eating his food?
While Cook lay writhing in his bed, Palmer collected Cook's race winnings. 48 hours later, Cook died. So did the Palmer's fifth child.
The chamber maid only had a sip. She lived.
I'm not too impressed with Palmer's wife.
Five healthy babies dying? Wasn't she getting suspicious?
Previous slide
Next slide

Bodies were exhumed but no evidence found. Circumstantial evidence convicted him.

Palmer tried to bribe several people involved with the coroner’s inquest. The fact that convinced the judges was Palmer’s purchase of strychnine shortly before Cook’s death.

Trial of Price of Poisons
William Palmer Prince of Poisons

Maybe I should take back my statement that poisoners are clever.


Strychnine is another plant alkaloid. There are many strychnos species. Strychnine is found in many of them, most abundantly in the seeds of Strychnos mux-vomica, a tree native to India. It was previously used as a pesticide.

Most poisonous plants
Strychnos mux-vomica
Deadly poisons from plants
Strychnos mus-vomica
Most poisonous plants
trunk of Strychnos mus vomica


As it happens so often in toxicology, strychnine targets a receptor in the nervous system.

Strychnine binds to glycine receptors of motor neurons three times higher than glycine itself.
I’m sure you realize which drug wins the binding race.
Glycine normally makes it more difficult for a nerve to transmit a signal, so it acts like a brake, ensuring the nerve won’t fire at the slightest provocation.
When strychnine latches onto these receptors, the brake is taken off.
The nerve will now fire at the smallest trigger! The system careens out of control.
Muscles connected to the affected motor neurons will contract fully for extended periods, at the slightest provocation!
The effect is dramatic and heart-breaking.
In humans, back muscles tend to be stronger than those on the front of the body. Strychnine causes these poor victims to arch their backs.
The poisoned individual turns red from the efforts.
Previous slide
Next slide

Death occurs quickly, between one and three hours. Often the victim has paralysis of their jaw muscles, their lips drawn back in a horrific parody of a grin.

Deadliest Poisons in History
Poison and chocolate should never be in the same sentence!

I have no clue how this passed by the authority figures of the time. Apparently, they assumed the death was due to tetanus or severe epileptic fits. It sounds to me as if they were all gullible. Hindsight is 20/20 as the saying goes. (I’m still not happy with Palmer’s wife.)


It was hopeless in the 19th C, but today, anti-convulsive drugs such as diazepam (valium) are administered along with assisted respiration to maintain breathing, since respiratory muscles are also affected. (being skeletal muscles, after all.)  Unfortunately, anyone with strychnine poisoning did not have this option before 1963, when diazepam was available. 


Before valium, curare was used as an antidote. Curare is a potent poison in its own right, affecting nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. (Look at this! I can sneak in another poison!)

Curare causes paralysis of the skeletal muscles. Remember, this is the exact opposite of strychnine, which causes muscles to fire constantly. Curare is a large molecule and broken down orally, so it can only affect muscles if injected or absorbed through a cut. That’s why anyone using curare for arrows or darts can taste the poison to see how concentrated the brew. (More bitter=more concentrated)


Curare is the knight of poisons, because it also saved victims from the evil prince!


Cyanides are one of the most rapidly fatal poisons known. They have an affinity for hemoglobin that is a couple hundred times greater than oxygen. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your BMI is, cyanide will get you.

Let’s dub it the Joker of Poisons! It’s always going to get the last laugh.

Make Sense of Science by Subscribing
Laughing, but not about poisons


Cyanide can be found naturally in over 500 plants.
From cassava root to flax seeds to bamboos to almonds, elderberries, cherries, pears, peaches, and plums. Millepedes exude cyanide too, but I don’t know a single person who’d eat one, not even for $50! (maybe for $100?) Any takers?
Cyanide was discovered by Heinrich Diesbach, a German artist, looking for more vibrant red paint.
Instead of red, he created a deep violet blue. Enter Prussian Blue.
Prussian Blue is used today to help remove radioactive cesium and thallium from people’s bodies. I hope you never need to fill a prescription for it!
Eighty years later, a chemist mixed Prussian Blue with an acid solution, heated the foaming result and created a colorless gas, undetectable except for the faint scent of almonds.
Scientists call it hydrocyanic acid. It is a dramatically lethal bundle of hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen atoms. (WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?)
Inhaled or ingested, cyanides kill the same way. They shut down the body’s ability for hemoglobin to bind to oxygen.
Previous slide
Next slide

Cyanide is a terrible poison, painful and horrible.

At least people who choose to use cyanide as a murder weapon almost always get caught.

almost always....see below


Cyanide is the active ingredient of Zyklon B, the gas used in the Nazi extermination camps
In 1978, the infamous cult leader Jim Jones murdered all his followers in the Jonestown massacre.
Click Here
He killed over 900 of his followers, mostly with grape punch laced with cyanide. One third of them were children. Survivors state that syringes with the poison were squirted into infant’s mouths.
Click Here
It appears that the killer injected cyanide into Tylenol gel capsules, resealed the packaging, and slipped the painkillers back onto pharmacy shelves to be sold.
Seven people died, most of them in one week. The victims included a 12-year-old girl, a postal worker, and a flight attendant.
The random nature of those deaths both slowed and confused the investigation.
The culprits were never caught.
Previous slide
Next slide

Johnson & Johnson instituted a massive recall.

They developed new product protection methods and ironclad pledges to do better in protecting their consumers in the future. Working with FDA officials, they introduced a new tamper-proof packaging, which included foil seals and other features that made it obvious to a consumer if foul play had transpired.

These packaging protections soon became the industry standard for all over-the-counter medications.

In 1983, the U.S. Congress passed what was called “The Tylenol bill,” making it a federal offense to tamper with consumer products. In 1989, the FDA established federal guidelines for manufacturers to make all such products tamper-proof.


Unlike some of the other famous homicidal poisons (I’m thinking arsenic here) cyanide is strong and bitter.

The gel-casings of the Tylenol capsules blocked the taste of the poison.

Cyanide leaves an obvious trail of evidence. From a telltale bloody froth dribbling out of the victim’s mouth to convulsions and a lingering scent of almonds, alerting physicians, police, forensics specialists and toxicologists. It is not a kind way to die.

It is not a good way to get away with murder, either. Cyanide does not make any untraceable poison lists. It does make the ‘Deadliest Poisons in History’ list.

Deadly Poison of Nazis
Fast and deadly


The pale horse. Okay, I’m stretching it here with an animal analogy, but all this royalty needs to ride out on something! (Not the joker. He’s walking.) I sure don’t want to ride that horse. Our king, queen, and prince would, though.

THALLIUM Death on a Pale Horse
1784 Joseph Haynes Art Institute of Chicago

Thallium is the 81st element on the periodic table, right next to another poisonous element, mercury. Actually, thallium tucked between mercury and lead. Three poisons in a row. (I’ll save those two for another time!)

Deadly Poisons
Three poisons in a row!
Thallium was discovered in 1861
by Sir William Crookes and Clyde-Auguste Lamy
Initially, it was used for tuberculosis patients in an attempt to decrease their night sweats
All that happened was their hair fell out
Next, thallium was used on the skin as a pre-treatment for ringworm.
Thallium made the hair fall out in the affected area, which was then treated with sulfur.
Before thallium, large doses of X-rays were used for hair removal.
I suppose a cream of thallium seemed easier. This was 1890, after all...
Next to thallium creams, sat another thallium product, a pesticide.
It seems odd that people thought thallium was considered safe for humans, yet deadly for other mammals.
Thallium was easily available to all!
Accidental poisonings, suicides, and murders led to thallium pesticides being banned, but get this...not until 1972!
Previous slide
Next slide

Thallium is dubbed ‘the poisoner’s poison’ because the wide range of symptoms are easily attributed to other causes, making diagnosis perplexing. Not only that, it dissolves invisibly and has no taste.

The initial symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps usually abate, mimicking food poisoning or an influenza.

A few days later the damage to the internal organs becomes so great that victims frequently die.


Once ingested, thallium substitutes itself for potassium in several different body systems.
Potassium has many roles
Nerve cell function and ATP production to name a few
Cells with high energy needs (heavy ATP users) suffer most
Nerves, heart, hair (which grows rapidly)
Thallium also has an affinity for sulfhydryl ( -SH ) groups.
Thallium doesn't target any one protein or enzyme, which is why the symptoms are so wide-ranging and confusing.
Sulfhydryl group
Sulfhydryl groups can be found all over the body.
One spot is in the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine plays an important role in facilitating hair growth. (makes sense!)
Fun fact: Skunk spray contains sulfhydryls
Sulfur is a smelly element.
Victims can survive the exposure but it takes time for the body to get rid of thallium.
Further problems can affect the kidneys, heart, and nervous system. Sensory and motor changes, peripheral neuropathy, loss of reflexes, arrhythmias, and renal disease may result. (SEE? Thallium is insidious)
Thallium poisoning is complex and so is treatment.
Agents such as EDTA, dimercaprol, penicillamine, sodium iodide, and thiouracil have all been used with some benefit. Flushing the system via diuresis and potassium chloride. Hemoperfusion or dialysis may be necessary.
Previous slide
Next slide

Here's another example of a poison combating a poison.

Prussian Blue (potassium ferric cyanoferrate) dye has been used to trap thallium in the gut after initial ingestion.

Prussian blue isn't quite the same chemical as hydrocyanic acid.

Our joker, HCN

Maybe our royalty needs something to wear….

DEATH CAP MUSHROOMS Amanita phalloides

The death-cap mushroom has a long history as a tool of murder and suicide, going back to ancient Roman times.


Roman emperor Claudius was poisoned by death cap mushrooms.
Where was his food taster, I wonder? Also, his hair looks like a mushroom cap. Coincidence?
Pope Clement VII didn’t have a tester either.
In 1537, he may have died after being poisoned by the death cap mushroom. (he looks pompous but that's no reason to off him)
Voltari wrote that Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI was poisoned by death cap mushrooms, too.
Some hypothesize that Buddha also died after eating poisonous mushrooms.
Previous slide
Next slide


The poisons are found throughout the cap, gills, stem and spores of the mushroom. They originated in Europe and are found throughout that continent and in parts of North Africa. However, shipping timber and live tree seedlings around the world has seen the Death Cap spread to North America, where it’s most common in California. It also occurs in parts of South America and in Australia.

More about α-amanitin

Amanita phalloides produce one of the world's deadliest toxins : α-amanitin.


α-Amanitin achieves its impressive deadliness by inhibiting RNA polymerase II from doing its job
This is an enzyme, primarily responsible for transcribing genes into the messenger molecule RNA.
What’s happening is that α-Amanitin stops the cell from making DNA and replicating.
The entire cell dies.
If enough cells in a human liver or kidney are affected and die, then there will be catastrophic liver or kidney failure
...followed by death.
The lethal dose for humans is estimated at about 0.1mg/kg body weight, so about 8mg for an 80kg person.
Take a bite and you're pretty much done!
Previous slide
Next slide

Symptoms don’t appear for hours! (it takes a little time for the α-Amanitin to stop the cells from replicating via RNA bashing)

Stomach issues ensue, followed by jaundice, seizures, coma, and death. 

There is no antidote. Repeat: no antidote.

Please don’t pick wild mushrooms! Yes, we see it all the time on ALONE, but they’ve had training.

Deadly Poisons Death Cap
Especially if they have that cup along the base!


Let’s end on a more positive note! With all these poisoners running amok, we need heroes! (not just that knight above) There are too many heroes to mention them all –many working as you’re reading my post! Since I’m writing about ‘Deadliest Poisons in History’ I’ll stick with historical heroes and keep it going with analogies, not of royalty, but father figures. 

The brilliant Mathieu Orfila, and the amazing Dr. Alexander Gettler.

Deadliest Poisons in History
Father of Toxicology Orfila
Deadliest Poisons in History
Father of American Toxicology
Father of Toxicology: Mathieu Orfila
In 1814, Mathieu Orfila wrote “Traite Des Poisons” which described the symptoms of different poisons and outlined poisons used by criminals.
He looked at samples such as blood, as well as the different effects of poisons and he tested their presence in the body after death.
This was a big deal in the early 19th C
He was asked to testify at numerous criminal cases
We know how popular poisoning was back then!
Father of American Toxicology: Alexander Gettler
In 1918, propelled by numerous scandals involving corrupt coroners and unsolved murders, New York City hired its first trained medical examiner, a pathologist, Charles Norris. He in turn hired a talented chemist named Alexander Gettler.
As chief forensic toxicologist, Gettler played a significant role in creating a world-renowned toxicology laboratory.
Together, Norris and Gettler elevated forensic chemistry to a formidable science.
After World War II, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences was formed.
Advancements in technology have broadened & deepened this scientific area, making it an invaluable science.
Forensic toxicology remains important and relevant! (especially with all the NEW poisons. That's for another post!)
Previous slide
Next slide


I had far too many poisons to choose from! For this post, I stuck with the king, queen, prince, joker, a knight in not-so-shining armor, a pale horse to ride, and a cap to keep the wind off. (which none of them deserve.)

THALLIUM Death on a Pale Horse
1796 Benjamin West Detroit Institute of Arts

Perhaps the reason I find poisons so intriguing and horrifying is the thin line between life and death. As toxicologists are fond of saying, “it’s not the poison, but the dose.” Heck, water can kill us if we drink enough.

Make Sense of Science
Louie is fine, he just hates having his picture taken

No murderers get a pass! It’s just that poisoners slink closer to the monsters lurking in our nightmares. The thoughtful intelligence, the cold-blooded calculation of a person who tricks their friend, co-worker, or loved one into swallowing something that will dissolve tissues, blister skin, or twist muscles into convulsive agony, shows humanity at its worst.

The fact that we find it horrifying and revolting reminds us that human decency prevails! Let’s go back to smelling the flowers, not grinding them down into a paste. And have a cocktail– made by our own hand, of course!

Unless you want me to stop by?

Science Magic Impress your posse
Smell the flowers!
Make it yourself!




Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
January 18, 2021 3:05 pm

Wow! I didn’t know there was so much to know about poisons! Very informative post – thanks for sharing!

Retirestyle Travel
Retirestyle Travel
January 18, 2021 3:14 pm

Better clear your browser history (ha ha). We just saw a Dateline episode where the husband poisoned his wife. I think medicine has improved and hopefully you can be saved if you somehow ingest one of these poisons.

Unwanted Life
January 18, 2021 3:39 pm

If I remembering right, are poisons the favoured method to murder someone if you’re a woman?

Kelly Diane
January 18, 2021 3:47 pm

This is such an informative and interesting post. I never knew there were so many versions of poison.

Amy Laundrie
January 18, 2021 5:21 pm

I was hooked from your opening paragraph. This was fascinating.

January 18, 2021 6:17 pm

Learning about poison is always interesting. Though, I found manmade ones worse than the ones from animals. At least the animal (like a spider) is trying to protect itself.

Nancy ✨

January 18, 2021 7:23 pm

Wow this was such an interesting article to read! I definitely learned a lot about poisons. Thanks for sharing!

January 19, 2021 4:17 am

Ok but this was so interesting! I actually loved reading this, we recently studied poisons regulations at college and I remembering thinking how dull, but reading about the actual poisons and murders is much more interesting!

January 19, 2021 5:09 am

I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Very informative, it is such a fascinating read.

Sara James
January 19, 2021 5:14 am

It’s such an interesting and informative article about poisons and their toxicology, history and occurrence. Your sense of humor is brilliant, and you are right, we should focus more on the hero’s and their work, and not on the villain’s story, and their motives.

Lisa's Notebook
January 19, 2021 5:24 am

This was utterly fascinating, Sue! I’ve heard of all these poisons (um, oops!) but wasn’t aware of all the facts. On that note, here’s fun fact for you: the Mad Hatter was so called because hatters used to work with arsenic but the amounts used weren’t enough to kill them, just send them mad 🙂

January 19, 2021 7:05 am

This was such an informative post! I didn’t know there were so many different poisons, I heard about some of them but not most. I really want to rewatch Criminal Minds now! Thanks for sharing 🙂

Molly @ Transatlantic Notes
January 19, 2021 9:07 am

Macabre and fascinating! I love the information you’ve included, I didn’t know there was so much to know about poisons!

Brooke Ressell
Brooke Ressell
January 19, 2021 11:53 am

Another interesting read. You make science fun.

January 19, 2021 1:56 pm

Such an interesting post! I never knew so much about poison!

Tash – A Girl with a View

Della Driscoll
January 19, 2021 2:43 pm

I always learn so much from your posts! A very informative read xx

Fransic verso
Fransic verso
January 19, 2021 6:37 pm

Very informative, I didn’t this music about poison and the history of it. It has interesting facts as well. Thank you for sharing!

Luke Slater
January 20, 2021 5:31 am

What an intriguing post to read, you literally learn something new everyday! This was a really good fun read. Thanks for sharing 🙂

January 20, 2021 12:06 pm

This was so fascinating. I didn’t know anything about poisons before reading your post! I think I only knew about cyanide from a comic book I heard years ago! Great post! Thanks for sharing x

Anika May
Anika May
January 20, 2021 2:53 pm

Such an interesting post, there’s so much to learn! I didn’t know much about arsenic before this, so glad I had a read 🙂

Anika |

January 20, 2021 3:28 pm

Another great post, you never fail to impress. It does make me a little nervous living next-door to you with that monkshood in your yard. Great job. Mike

January 21, 2021 8:06 am

This is so interesting! I had no idea there were so many different poisons out there and I definitely didn’t know about their properties! Thank you so much for sharing this!

Baby Boomer Super Saver
January 21, 2021 4:51 pm

Very fascinating and informative post, Sue! I love the way you’ve made your post so interactive with info slides. This topic caught my interest right away, as I’ve studied & taught herbalism courses. I also forage for wild mushrooms. But no worries, I only eat the ones that do not have poisonous look alikes!

So allow me to add –

Hemlock kills by paralyzing parts of the body – specifically the respiratory system. Unfortunately, if you were poisoned by hemlock, your body would be unable to move but your mind would be fully aware as you died. Gruesome! If you were with someone in this situation, you could potentially keep them alive with buddy breathing until you could get them medical attention. Recently a friend of mine was eating Queen Anne’s Lace flowers and accidently ate a tiny hemlock blossom. She was OK, but had to go to the hospital.

Monkshood is a beautiful flower and the plant was used in Medieval times as one of the ingredients in flying ointments. It was also used for medicinal purposes, but dosing mattered! Monkshood is also poisonous to dogs.

Amanita phalloides, or death cap mushrooms are very prevalent where I live in Northern California. They are actually becoming more widespread throughout the world, but there are many places where they do not exist. We have had several tragic cases where Russian & European immigrants relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area and were poisoned after collecting and eating death cap mushrooms. Unfortunately, the death cap mushrooms look like an edible mushroom from their homeland (and death caps were not familiar to them).

However, there have also been cases where people ate death caps and survived. Upon further investigation, it was learned these survivors had included another wild plant in their diet which has liver-protective properties: common milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Research on milk thistle extract as an antidote for amatoxin-mushroom poisoning continues. I think you will like this article about it, with links to published research:

January 22, 2021 12:42 pm

Hello Sue! I am so impressed with this article. You’ve shown dedication during your research. Kudos! Interesting to read about the historical info. I’ve learned so much on this post.

Reply to  Susan Berk Koch
January 24, 2021 2:17 am

yesterday, i watched a spy documentary and glad I read about your article because the poisons are there! lol

Reply to  Susan Berk Koch
January 24, 2021 6:46 am

Yes that’s the series i watched! So intriguing and dangerous. Also there is VX nerve agents.

January 22, 2021 5:19 pm

Fascinating!!! I too have monkshood in my garden – who knew what lurks below those lovely fall flowers!

January 23, 2021 1:13 am

I always enjoy your science posts Susan, so informative. It’s amazing that nature can produce such potent toxins isn’t it? I’ll admit I know a lot less about the plant poisons but was always interested in how snake and spider venom worked. Thanks for sharing the knowledge!

January 24, 2021 3:35 am

Oh, I love Criminal Minds too so happy watching! This is such an informative post, there are so many things that can harmm, aren’t there?
Not quite poison but drug related, if you can get BBC tv shows, then I would highly recommend The Serpent. It follows the 1960’s/70’s serial killer Charles Sobhraj through Asia – he drugged/poisoned his victims. Its a dramatised version of the story, but so good!

Thanks for sharing!
Aimsy xoxo
Aimsy’s Antics

Isa A
Isa A
January 24, 2021 7:17 am

Very very interesting read!!! Very intellectual and fun! I love intellectual roads so enjoyed. I know about arsenic, cyanide and thallium but didn’t know the rest. Fab review and enjoyed getting enlightened! Thanks for sharing <3

Isa A. Blogger.

JoJo Hall
January 24, 2021 8:58 am

This was so intriguing and informative! Loved learning about these different poisons and their elements.

January 24, 2021 12:44 pm

I am really interested in poisons weirdly enough. We grow rhubarb in the garden and it is mad to think how yummy the stem is but the leaf will kill you. In the summer when I am walking in the woods, we have loads of foxgloves which are so pretty but so deadly.

Tea in the Tub

January 24, 2021 5:21 pm

A very educational post! I’m wondering if you have alt text for the images/GIFs for accessibility? Image descriptions would be an alternative too.
Looking forward to what you create next! 🙂

Susan Berk Koch author

My New Book!

Be the best-informed reader!

Make Sense of Science is my email newsletter where I share information about future science, new tech developments, as well as tools and resources for STEM at home. It arrives every two weeks and you’ll only hear from me. (And Louie)

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x


Be the smartest person on your block!

Enter your email & I’ll share news about future science, STEM activities, and the best books.

And more Louie!

Louie says please subscribe to our science blog

Be the Best Informed!

I’ll make sense of science, share news about new tech, science advancements, and more. You’ll only hear from me and only twice a month. 

Louie loves STEM at home activities

Be the smartest person!

I’ll share news about future science, new species, show you how to do science at home with your kids, find the best books and more. You’ll only hear from me and only twice a month, tops.

Louie will be so happy!

Don’t miss out on More Cool Science! Subscribe for twice monthly articles. Thanks so much.