Darnel

(Lolium temulentum) A rare casual grass in Britain, but only because generations of farmers have taken good care to eradicate it, for the grain (and only the grain) is toxic, and when ground with the wheat produces a flour that can cause serious illness to those eating bread made from it (Long. 1924). But the plant is notoriously prey to the ergot fungus, Claviceps, and it may very well be the ergot infection that gives it its evil reputation. Whatever the cause, ingestion will produce giddiness and confused perception. Hence the German name Schwindel, and the French ivraie, drunk. Gerard said it causes drunkenness in those who eat it in bread hot from the oven, and it is also said to cause blindness; there is a saying, "Darnel for dim sight". And those that were dim-sighted (i.e., dim-witted) were said to have "eaten darnel" (Jacob). Gerard knew about this, for he warns under the heading "The danger", that "Darnell hurteth the eyes and maketh them dim ...". See Shakespeare, too:

Want ye corn for bread?

I think the Duke of Burgundy will fast

Before he'll buy again at such a rate;

'Twas full of darnel: do you like the taste?

At one time it was used to "fortify" beer (the French name ivraie is a mirror of this practice, for when brewed with barley it acts as a narcotic intoxicant (C P Johnson). But the practice was recognized as highly dangerous, and was prohibited in France as long ago as the reign of St Louis (1226-1270) (Forsyth). There is a Norwegian folk tale that tells how mothers used darnel to put their children to sleep when there was no food to give them (Kvideland & Sehmsdorf). "Sturdy" is a name in use in Ireland and Scotland (Britten & Holland); there is a disease in sheep called sturdy, or staggers. Meal was said to be sturdied when it had a lot of darnel in it. Another name, from Somerset, is Lover's Steps, surely an ackowledgment of the divination game, of the "Love-me, love-me-not" kind (see RYE-GRASS).

Datura stramonium > THORN-APPLE

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