I like plants.

As a kid, my outdoorsy parents encouraged me to poke at, sniff at, and sometimes even eat whatever grew around me.  We had a yard covered in edibles, which my brother and I would help cultivate and consume.  However, this view of plants as food sometimes led to predictable trouble.  I still remember the nice official we met on a trip to the San Diego Zoo when I was four, who came over to reassure my frantic mother that the bright red berry I had scavenged off the natal plum shrubbery was non-toxic.

Carissa macrocarpa, the natal plum. Turns out it is edible, but not very tasty. Photo credit: Marco Schmidt, Wikimedia common.

So my mom the herbal enthusiast conscientiously instructed us on how to tell the difference between young tomato plants and their relative deadly nightshade, or between the clambering viny wild currants that grew in our nearby woods and the poison oak that threaded between them.

Wild currant (Ribes sanguineum, although ours might be the chapparal currant, Ribes malvaceum). Worth fighting through poison oak for! Open source photo by Leo Michaels.

When I grew up a bit, all this herbal knowledge gradually became a rabid enthusiasm for the biochemistry of plants, and the molecular basis of medicine. It turns out there are quite a lot of poisonous plants whose poisons are also the basis for serious medicines—alkaloids that can stop your heart or start it; molecules that freeze your cells just as they start to divide, but also stop the growth of cancer.  So this blog, in the fullness of time, has come about as a forum for talking about plants to eat and plants to shun, and the ingeniously horrible ways they can take your life…or save it.

DISCLAIMER: the emphasis on plants notwithstanding, this is NOT going to be a blog about herbalism in general, or natural or alternative medicine.  This is about chemotherapeutic agents whose medical use is based on thoroughly cited peer-reviewed research, with clinical trials where appropriate, and certainly cell culture assays and spectrophotometric analysis. I’m a molecular biologist, and that’s the angle I want to cover.  But I’d be more than happy to have comments or suggestions for plants or other topics to cover from anyone who knows about those subjects.


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