Saturday, July 20, 2013

Toads and transformations

I have a big spool of string in my kitchen, (mostly used for trussing chickens for the wondrous Chicken Bonne Femme from Julia Child's Art of French Cooking) but it never occurred to me that I could make string.

Last week I learned to make string from a stick of dried dogs bane.  First we learned to scrape off the outer coating using an obsidian point, then pulled the fibers free from the stalk.  Twist and wrap, twist and wrap and pretty soon I had a serviceable (and strong) piece of twine.  Made from a stick.  Now when I walk I look at the plants and see them as potential strings and fishing nets.  This experience definitely gave me new eyes for my every day landscape!  ("The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust)

What do toads have to do with this transformation?  We were warned about being careful with the green dogs bane, since ingesting the sap can disrupt your heart rhythm.  Not surprisingly (at least to a chemist) the sap contains a chemical relative of digoxin (derived from foxgloves or digitalis). A number of plants, including the oleander my mother planted all over her garden, have similar toxins in them.  (If you want to see if you can see the similarities yourself, you can read what I'm writing about this on my other blog.)

Toads. Right. Toads secrete a similar compound (which I found interesting because it's typically made by plants). Don't kiss a toad.  It won't turn into a prince, though it still might make your heart pound...


  1. String. Toads. Oleandear. Obsidian. Spirit. Chemistry. Life. You make me swoon some days... I like that.