Life in the Poison Garden

August 2, 2011

While a few people recommended them, I didn’t expect the Blarney Castle Gardens to be so diverse and fun to explore. One of my favourite parts was the Poison Garden. This fascinating collection of poisonous plants sits in the shadows of the castle and is intended to be an educational exhibit that informs visitors about the toxic plants that grow around us.

poison garden sign blarney castle The signs posted in front of each plant provide some interesting information about not only their toxicity, but also the various ways they have been used throughout history. A sign on a wall nearby notes that the site of the garden may have once been used to plant a “physic garden,” common in medieval Europe. My mind wandered to the people who once inhabited the castle and what medicinal or culinary horticulture they might have practiced.

castor oil poison foxglove poisonous The stories here range from haunting to macabre to humorous. Many parents accidentally killed their children by using Hellebore as a worm treatment prior to the 18th century. Belladonna was used by Venetian ladies to make themselves more beautiful by causing their pupils to dilate, but it can also cause hallucinations and death. While rhubarb stalks are delicious as a dessert, the leaves are extremely toxic. Some of the plants are so dangerous that even smelling them can cause serious illness. Tales of suicide, addiction and superstition are woven through the narratives.

hellebore poison garden henbane poisonous marijuana blarney castle We were quite curious about the sign posted under the marijuana information and learned that the garden had been quite comprehensive, at one time including both the marijuana plant as well as a poppy plant. The marijuana plant was seized by the gardai (Irish police) in October 2010. Blarney Castle has applied for a licence but this seems to still be unresolved.

nightshade plant rhubarb leaves poisonous As I read each sign I noticed plenty of Harry Potter references that I didn’t get because I’ve never read the books. Enthusiasts of the series will, no doubt, enjoy seeing some of the plants mentioned in the stories among the garden’s offerings.

tobacco plants poison garden wolfsbane poison garden wormwood plant poisonous Other plants that were included but not pictured here are: birthwort, chaste tree, cherry laurel, Common Box, poison hemlock, common juniper, European Mandrake, laburnum anagyroides, oleander, poison ivy/oak, Salvia divinorum, tea, White Helleborene and yew.

Are you surprised that any of these plants were included in the Poison Garden?

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  • Jimmy Dormady

    Cool article, interesting. So that’s where now defunct British heavy metal band Wolfsbane got their name from!

    • Andrea and John

      That’s exactly what John said when he saw the Wolfsbane signpost!

  • Angelene Orth

    How interesting! Never seen a garden like this!

    • Andrea and John

      I hadn’t either – very unique!

  • Andi Perullo

    I’ve never heard of a place like this before!  Would be cool to wander around though I’d be so nervous that I would trip and fall haha.

    • Andrea and John

      Facefull of poison ivy does not sound appealing, does it? haha

  • Emily

    This is so cool! I love the idea of a different type of garden (not to mention anything with Harry Potter references). The Getty Villa in LA is a reconstruction of a Roman villa, and they have a recreation of the kind of kitchen garden that Romans would have had – your talk about a physic garden reminded me of that. I also think it’s pretty funny that they tried to get away with a marijuana plant only to have it confiscated.

    • Andrea and John

      Do I need to read Harry Potter? I always think I won’t like things with such mass appeal but then people who I like and whose opinions I respect say they like them and it makes me curious….

    • Lynn

      Try reading the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sourcer’s Stone. If you don’t like it after a chapter or two, fine. You might, like me, find yourself pleasantly surprised. A lot of the plant references come from Harry’s classes, especially potions.

  • Camwears

    Awesome post and what an great idea for a garden!

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks! It’s a little morbid but definitely enjoyed poking around here

  • Kris Koeller

    That’s pretty awesome.  In the US that would get shut down quickly as someone would invariably eat the poisounous plant, get poisoned then sue. 

    • Andrea and John

      Sounds about right, haha! =)

  • Randy Kalp

    Really interesting post and place! I love the background and historical facts that are given for each plant.

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks, Randy – I thought they did a really good job with the narratives for each plant too!

  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam

    Kids:  Mom, can we go play in the garden?
    Mom: Sure!
    Kids: When do we have to be back?
    Mom: Back?  Umm…


    This kinda place is totally up my alley!  Love it..

    • Andrea and John

      Haha – wait…is it okay to laugh at that? 😉

  • Stephanie – The Travel Chica

    What an odd attraction.  I wonder how many of those children’s deathers were not really “accidents.”

    • Andrea and John

      Haha – I thought the same thing 😉

  • Sherry

    How utterly fascinating! It almost makes me want to take up gardening. I’d love to grow some of these and learn to be like an apothecary. Just for the medical purposes, that’s all. I promise.  Ireland just keeps getting more interesting with every post.

    • Andrea and John

      I can think of some good ones for medicinal purposes as well, haha 😉 Ireland was really interesting…it surprised is in some great ways!

  • Jeremy Branham

    Yikes!  This is like seeing a shark or a venomous snake but with plants!  Fascinating to look at and read about but dangerous and scary.  I guess it’s why we like to see things that scare us because they also captivate us.  By NO WAY I would ever take a little kid in this place!

    • Andrea and John

      There were heaps of kids there, surprisingly. Of course their parents were all white-knuckle gripping their hands as they walked around, haha

  • Cathy Sweeney

    I was really surprised by the gardens and grounds of Blarney Castle, too. However, I don’t remember the Poison Garden — looks fun,  interesting and a little bit scary!

    • Andrea and John

      We were so surprised by them! I thought all that would be there would be the stone, castle and a lot of tourists. So glad we were able to rave about our trip there…

  • Michael Figueiredo

    This is the most fascinating story I’ve read in a long time! I’d love to visit this garden….so cool!

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks, Michael! Highly recommend the Blarney Castle Gardens if you get to Ireland =)

  • Kyle

    Did these people realize afterwards that it had been something they’d done with a plant which had accidentally killed their children or did they not know? In that case ignorance is bliss. Killing your own child, that has to be the worst feeling in the world.

    • Andrea and John

      I’m not sure – it sounded like the plants were used to induce vomiting for poison or worms…they might have thought the worms or original poison was responsible…the sign didn’t say…

  • Sarah’s Toothbrush

    Talk about a green thumb!

    That’s one horticulturist I would NOT want to mess with…

    • Andrea and John

      Haha – no, definitely not!

  • Krista

    What a fascinating place, Andrea! :-) I’m a huge Harry Potter fan so I definitely picked up on some of the references. :-)

    • Andrea and John

      I think I need to get into Harry Potter – everyone seems to love the series! =)

    • silvergryphon

      I’m much like you on avoiding overly hyped books and movies. My husband dragged me kicking and screaming into the Harry Potter movies right after moving in. They are now our go to entertainment when there is nothing on the tube. I now must work on getting all of the books. I would highly recommend you at least try the series to see if you enjoy it.

  • Hecktic Travels

    Very interesting.  The grandma who lives in our Manor here always asks me to taste plants from our garden but I am always a little hesitant because I do not know plants all that well… I never knew that rhubarb leaves were poisonous either.  Yikes!

    • Andrea and John

      Uh oh, haha – maybe show her this post just as an “hey, did you know about this” so she’s aware. But I’m sure she’s not a witch or anything, haha =)

  • Audrey Bergner

    This garden is one of a kind! Hehe, funny that the cannabis was seized…

    • Andrea and John

      It is funny – I’m surprised they tried it…and that no one came in the night and stole it first!

  • Lisa

    I was surprised by the Rhubarb plant and the fact that the police had removed the marijuana plant. I’m not surprised that kids need to be supervised, that could get a little scary if they weren’t. It would be a cool place to visit. 

    • Andrea and John

      Definitely need to watch the kids in this garden, but I was really glad it was there – I learned so much. Thanks, Lisa!

  • Lisa

    I was surprised by the Rhubarb plant and the fact that the police had removed the marijuana plant. I’m not surprised that kids need to be supervised, that could get a little scary if they weren’t. It would be a cool place to visit. 

  • Bob Crunch

    It sounds like a very fun place to visit. I like how of all the plants that could have been removed in was the marijuana plant.

    • Andrea and John

      Of course, haha. I would say the tobacco plant is a worse offender but that’s just me I suppose…

  • Marie-Eve Vallieres

    I’m surprised there is a poison garden at all! Not something I would’ve thought of visiting, but it sure seems interesting. Look with the eyes, though!

    • Andrea and John

      Haha – of course! You’ll see it when you go to Blarney Castle – it’s just at the bottom of the castle if you go right once you exit the castle past the vendor selling the Blarney kissing photos. Definitely have a peek =)

  • Anonymous

    I roamed the grounds of the Blarney Castle, but I must have missed the Poison Garden. It’s kind of crazy they keep all of those plants just out in the open at such a big tourist attraction. Did you kiss the stone?!

    • Andrea and John

      I did, haha – wasn’t sure if I would but I couldn’t pass it up. =)

  • Wandering Educators

    very cool! we skipped blarney but for sure would have gone for THIS!

    • Andrea and John

      Oh no! We almost missed it too


    Very awesome find! I would’ve never thought there’d be a garden like this and to know that some plants like rhubarb are double-edged (good & dangerous)…I find that fascinating. I’d probably go for this garden more than the stone! ha ha..

    • Andrea and John

      I preferred it to the stone too! Still haven’t gotten around to reading all the informative signs I took photos of.

  • Mark Turner

    Not Blarney castle, but the Poison Gardens at Alnwick Castle, in Northumbria. Hence the Harry Potter References. I was there recently, and recognise some of the exibits portrayed here

    • Andrea and John

      Hi Mark – No, this one is Blarney Castle =) I took the photos…They must be very similar! =)

  • Vwest

    frightening thing is, belladonna is an ingredient in homeopathic teathing medication for babies here in the states…and its sold everywhere….

    • Andrea and John

      How scary! I don’t understand how that can be??

    • Mike

      Because only an idiot would buy into any homeopathic “medication”. It pains me to even type “medication” in the same paragraph as homeopath. Homeopathic medications essentially have absolutely none of the origin active ingredient in them at all. You might as well just be drinking water. It is medical fraud plain and simple.

      Homeopathic belladonna preparations have been sold as treatments for various conditions, although there is no scientific evidence to support their efficacy.[31][32] Clinically and in research trials, the most common preparation is diluted to the 30C level in homeopathic notation. This level of dilution does not contain any of the original plant,[32] although preparations with lesser dilutions which statistically contain trace amounts of the plant are advertised for sale.[33]


    • Andrea and John

      Thanks for sharing this info, Mike

  • robert feller

    I’m rather concerned with the toxicity of marijuana and why it’s at this place? But more importantly I’m concerned that most of the plants may easily kill a man and marijuana (and poppy) at best will make you just chill out…

    • Andrea and John

      I wondered why they considered marijuana to be “toxic” as well – because as you point out, the rest of these plants are actually lethal…I even consider tobacco to be worse because of its carcinogenic properties…would be interesting to hear from the curator of the exhibit on this one…

  • Cheryl Howard

    FUN! Great post. I love the signs. :)

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  • Josee Laplante

    I absolutely love this article! Gardening and extend knowledge of plants is my thing for so many years now and still I discovered something new! Education is the key; so many common plants can be toxic. Not many knows that a mere tomato plants should actually be in this category: don’t ever eat the other parts of the plant… only RIPE tomatoes! Thanks for the article!

    • inspiringtravellers

      I did not know that about tomatoes! Thanks for sharing

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  • Rose Hilliard

    I’m shocked that they have Cannabis sativa there listed as a poisonous/dangerous plant. It’s well proven that any part of the Cannabis plant has never killed anyone! In fact, smoking it or taking the extract has been proven to cure many cancers, stop epileptic seizures, depression, and PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. How sad that the Irish gardeners would promote the idea that this plant is dangerous and/or poisonous in any respect! A true herbalist would certainly know differently. Google Phoenix for the real truth about Cannabis oil extract and what it can do to help people – not poison them.

    • inspiringtravellers

      Right on, Rose!

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