Friday, March 15, 2013

Medieval Herbalist and Murder Detective

A unique program I’ve enjoyed on British television called, Cadfael, (I rented episodes from Netflix until I bought the series from Amazon) is based on the books by Ellis Peters. The thing I like most about this production is that Cadfael, an exceptional monk, is an expert herbalist. He’s often in his herb garden and the rustic chamber where he dries roots and bunches of herbs, grinds them up with a mortar and pestle, and brews his potions and lotions.

He also solves murders, very unusual for a monk, but Brother Cadfael wasn’t always in the monastery. He was a soldier in the Crusades who killed a lot of men and is atoning for his sins by being a healer and bringing about justice in Medieval England. This gifted sleuth uses his knowledge of herbs and plants to help him solve murders. In one episode, entitled Monkshood, guess what poisons the victim?  Oh, go ahead and take a shot at it.
monkshood or aconiteAbout the Monkshood episode:
'Richildis, widowed, remarries because of the promise that her son will become heir to her proposed husband's estate. But a fight between stepfather and stepson results in the revoking of his promise, and a contract made with the monastery that they will receive the estate in exchange for lifetime care of the husband and wife. That would seem to settle the matter, but the formal contract signing is delayed when the abbot is called away. And then permanently halted when the husband is poisoned with monkshood of Cadfael's own manufacture.
Impelled by pride to look into the poisoning, Cadfael is shocked to realize that Richildis is one of the women from his own past.'
For more on our herbalist/detective monk:
herbs_aconite***Also about monkshood from a highly informative site: The Natural World
The author reminds us of the deadly nature of the plant saying,” You don't have to take in the poison by mouth, it can be absorbed through the skin. Be it the stem, the sap, the petals or the roots, this plant is a killer if not given all due care and respect. Many people through the ages have been killed either accidentally or even on purpose by this plant...the assassins plant of choice!” And goes on to add, “I just hope that the Police forensic department and indeed medical profession know that (as far as my research has uncovered ) aconite poisoning leaves no trace in the blood and the victim resembles one who has died of asphyxia. This is one of the main reasons why Monkshood is the perfect murder weapon.”

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