Jimson Weed August 06, 2015 20:51 - Michael Joslin

I first encountered Jimson Weed in Mark Twain's novels.  The plant usually signifies a waste place, a field gone wild, an unkempt barnyard.  Next I encountered the flowering weed in Carlos Castaneda's books, where, known as datura, the magical vegetable sent him flying as he developed the bruja's powers.

Neither encounter prepared me for the beautiful blossom that decorates this powerful plant, any part of which can send you on a frightening journey that could end in death.

Jimson Weed derives its name from Jamestown, where soldiers included the pretty flower in their salad and spend a few days on a psychedelic trip.  A friend of mine, after reading Carlos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan, followed directions in the book for making the datura potion, and found himself not only high, but blind for two days. 

Nonetheless, the plant is lovely with creamy flowers juxtaposed with jagged leaves and spiny fruit.  The flower color varies from white to gentle purple.  They come out in the night and fade in the sun's light. The fruit, which nicknames the plant thornapple. ripens and dries, splitting open to reveal hundreds of seeds.

Now, I have known folks to chew these seeds, resulting in varying degrees of dizzying trips and discomfort. I have never talked with anyone who repeated the trials. 

Animals generally avoid the bitter plant, but have been poisoned when it is harvest in hayfields or when lack of vegetation makes a bitter meal preferable to starvation.

The plant makes an attractive subject for photographs, so I always debate how long I can leave the weeds in my pasture before rooting them up. My horses have plenty of other options to munch on, so they have never sampled the poisonous datura, but I do not want jimson weed taking over my fields. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer would not be impressed.