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Botany

Plants of North America Jimsonweed



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You have probably noticed jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) popping up in your garden and immediately thought "weed." Many gardeners have yanked this herb - yes, it is an herb - quickly out of their garden, just as I have. However, just as I have done, you might want to re-think this destructive behavior.

Jimsonweed gained some popularity during the 1960s as an hallucinogen. It does have hallucinogenic properties, but it is also very dangerous. In fact, jimsonweed is down right toxic. Nevertheless, centuries ago, the priests at Delphi often enjoyed the smoke from the jimsonweed prior to coming forth with their oracles. Legend has it that Mark Anthony's soldiers once went berserk on jimsonweed. Centuries later, another legend sprang up around jimsonweed and soldiers. This time the year was 1676. British soldiers were sent to Jamestown, Virginia, to handle an uprising by the upstart American colonists. According to the legend, the colonists were spared; because the British soldiers never showed. It seems they were supposed to have partaken of some jimsonweed along the way. The herb supposedly caused the soldiers to go crazy - and AWOL - for eleven days. The herb was called "Jamestown weed," which later was somehow changed to "jimsonweed."

Shamans and medicine men of the Indians in the southwestern portion of the United Sates would use jimsonweed in various rituals. South American Indians used it as an anesthetic. Gypsies brought jimsonweed from its native India to Europe in the 1st century, where it was later associated with witchcraft.

Jimsonweed has been used over the years as a medicinal herb to treat various ailments, including: asthma, dyspepsia, muscle spasms, epilepsy, and hysteria. It has been used both externally and internally; however - and I cannot emphasize this enough - jimsonweed is not safe. It can even be toxic when used externally.

So, why would any gardener want to actually plant and grow such a toxic herb that is most often thought of as a weed? A good reason to cultivate jimsonweed is because it is really a pretty plant. It grows to be 3-6 feet tall on a sturdy stalk with leaves that are 5-6 inches long with irregularly-toothed edges. The blooms are what make jimsonweed attractive. The flowers are either light blue or white, trumpet-shaped, about 5-6 inches long, and look very much like really large morning glories. (My husband, who does not like morning glories, actually likes jimsonweed.) Large, spiny seed pods will form after the blooms are spent. Since jimsonweed should be treated as an annual, the seed pods can be colleted in the late summer or fall to be planted the following spring. (However, you will not want to plant jimsonweed where small children can get to it.)

Plant your jimsonweed in full sun at the back of the border in rich soil. (I have noticed in my own garden, however, that jimsonweed is not that fussy about the soil. It also appears to be quite drought-tolerant.) If planting more than one, space them widely apart. This plant does get rather large. Deadheading will encourage re-blooming. Then step back and enjoy this wildly dangerous, yet very striking, plant in your garden.

Reference:

Kowalchik, Claire and Hylton, William H., eds. "Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs". Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1998, p. 345.

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