Jimsonweed or Jamestown Weed: A Plant of Peril Through the Ages

"The frantic parents summoned psychiatrists, but it was a botanist, Dr. Otto Emery Jennings of the University of Pittsburgh, who finally solved the mystery."

October 9, 1947

On this day, The Times of Streator, Illinois, shared a story called Ailment of 2 Boys Solved by Botanist.

Two eight-year-old boys gave their parents a bad time when they fell victim to raging fevers and hallucinations in which weird animals stalked across the ceiling.

The frantic parents summoned psychiatrists, but it was a botanist, Dr. [Otto Emery Jennings] of the University of Pittsburgh, who finally solved the mystery.

Dr. Jennings said yesterday the boys had nibbled on some jimsonweed found on a vacant lot near their homes. The plant - famed in cowboy songs and history books - has seeds containing a substance used in medicine and which produce fever and delirium.


The same weed poisoned many English soldiers at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1676 as they tried to suppress Bacon's Rebellion.
This is why, besides being called Jimsonweed (Datura stramonim), it is also called Jamestown Weed or Devil's Snare.

In Robert Beverley Jr.'s book about the history of Virginia, he describes the incredible scene at Jamestown:

The Jamestown Weed (which resembles the Thorny Apple of Peru)... was gathered ... for a boiled salad by some of the soldiers sent thither to quell the rebellion of Bacon ...

Some of them ate plentifully of it, the effect of which was a very pleasant comedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days:

One would blow up a feather in the air;

Another would dart straws at it with much fury;

And another, stark naked, was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning and making [grimaces] at them; A fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions and then sneer in their faces ...

In this frantic condition, they were confined, lest they should... destroy themselves — though it was observed that all their actions were full of innocence and good nature.

[Although], they were not very clean;

A thousand such simple tricks they played, and after eleven days, returned to themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed.

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  1. Jay Templin on July 27, 2023 at 8:30 am

    Bacon’s Rebellion happened in 1676, not 1608. The first description of a jimson weed trip was written by George Percy in 1609.

    • The Daily Gardener on October 4, 2023 at 8:17 pm

      Thank you for letting me know about the typo on the date. I have corrected it. Also – thanks for the great info on George Percy.

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