Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reference Library Updates after The Gathering Storm: Herbs

By Linda

The herbs article in the Reference Library has now been updated with information from The Gathering Storm on: acem, feverbane, forkroot and healall. Two new herbs, asping rot and tarchrot leaf were added.

The entry for asping rot is also posted here under the spoiler tag.

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Asping Rot

Asping rot is a potent poison – a drop can kill according to Egwene – and it kills quickly and peacefully within an hour of ingestion in a (rather bitter-tasting) tea. Verin drank the tea in sips to kill herself slowly enough that she could pass on her research on the Shadow to Egwene and remain coherent while she did so. The poison appears to have strong narcotic or sedative properties, since she soon began to yawn and then gently lost consciousness and died (The Gathering Storm, A Visit from Verin Sedai).

While the word ‘rot’ implies a fungal poison – and many fungi certainly are poisonous – most fungi cause very painful deaths. The effect of asping rot is similar to that of an overdose of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), which incidentally is not absorbed quickly by the stomach, but it doesn’t have the lethal potency of asping rot and usually would require more than a drop to kill.

Asping alludes to asp, the venomous snake said to be used in Ancient Egypt for executing criminals who were thought to deserve a kinder death than that from regular executions. Cleopatra was said by Plutarch to have tested various poisons (on others, naturally – rank has its privileges!) and thought that the asp’s venom, which made the victim sleepy and weak, yet without pain, was the least terrible way to die. This is the death she chose herself when she suicided. Asping rot has a very similar physical effect although it is a plant, not snake venom.

The Calabar bean (Physostigma venenosum) or Ordeal bean also has interesting parallels with asping rot. It is very poisonous and the ground beans infused in water were used in West Africa as an ordeal to prove innocence or guilt:

If the prisoner vomits within half an hour he is accounted innocent, but if he succumbs he is found guilty.

- Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal

It generally kills within an hour.

The explanation for the survival of the innocent is that they trustingly drank the poison straight down and their body reacted to the rapid dose with intense vomiting and diarrhoea, thus purging the poison from their system before it was absorbed. The guilt sipped their poison and this slower dose was absorbed through the gastro-intestinal tract without being violently ejected as a large dose would be and they died of cardiac arrest (Malcolm Stuart, Colour Dictionary of Herbs and Herbalism). (Mind you, it all seems a bit rough and ready!)

Verin’s actions in sipping her poison not only allowed her to hand on her report and explanations, but reflect that she that she accepted her guilt in swearing to the Dark One and for her actions (however reluctant) as part of the Black Ajah and was prepared to pay the price.

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