I want to make an assassins competition which would involve players being presented with a number of poisons and having to identify them. I have thought of using Hellebore, Hemlock, Foxglove, Nightshade(Belladonna), and Monkshood (Wolfsbaine).

The test would comprise of the five plants being present to them and five goblet to which the equivalent poison has been added to a drink, and they would be asked to match them correctly. My problem is that I can't find any info on what the poison for these plants once prepared would look/smell like, and other info that players could use to identify the poisons. Anyone know where I would find this kind of info? How would medieval people detect/identify poisons?

Any help on gamefying my poison competition welcome :)

  • $\begingroup$ Loved the question. $\endgroup$
    – Gustavo
    Apr 25, 2020 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ Have you tried to go get some of the plants and see for yourself? Sounds like fun! $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 25, 2020 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ I know what the plans themselves look like (I am an ecologist). I am trying to work out what the poison that you would put in a drink looks and smell like. For example I know belladonna smells sweet and hemlock is a bit oily I am just trying to find more info like that. $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2020 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ i remember something about using discoloration to detect poison using certain material, but i forgot from what, i think it related with metal or salt. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Apr 25, 2020 at 18:28

1 Answer 1


Culpepper can help!

Culpepper's Complete Herbal

Hemlock: …The whole plant, and every part, has a strong, heady, and ill favored scent. Hemlock is exceedingly cold, and very dangerous, especially to be taken inwardly.

Hellebore (Black): …It is an herb of Saturn, and therefore no marvel if it has some sullen conditions with it, and would be far safer, being purified by the alchemist than given raw… ;also being beaten to powder and strewed upon foul ulcers, it eats away the dead flesh, and instantly heals them: nay, it helps gangrenes in the beginning.

Hellebore (White). The roots are thick at the head, white on the inside and very full of fibers all round, of a hot nauseous taste. Like the former it is it cold Saturnine plant, and possesses but to an inferior degree the virtues of black hellebore.

Foxglove: the flowers have no scent, but the leaves have a bitter hot taste… the urban is familiarly and frequently used by the Italians to heal any fresh or green wound, the leaves being but bruised and bound thereon… I am confident that an ointment thereof is one of the best remedies for a scabby head.

Nightshade (common): the whole plant is of a watery and insipid taste, but the juice of the berries is somewhat viscous, and of a cooling and binding quantity. Be sure you do not mistake the Deadly Nightshade for this.

Nightshade (deadly): … berries of the size of cherries, black and shining when ripe, of a sweetish and mawkish taste. Only a part of this plant has its uses. This Nightshade bears a very bad character as being of a poisonous nature. It is not good at all for inward uses…

Aconite – we have many poisonous aconites growing in the fields, of which we ought to be cautious: but there is a medicinal one kept in the shop; this is called the wholesome aconite; anthora, and wholesome wolfsbane… a decoction of the root is good lotion to wash the parts bitten by venomous creatures but it is not much regarded at this time, and should be cautiously kept out of children’s way, for there is a farina in the flower, which is very dangerous is blown in the eyes; the leaves also, if rubbed on the skin, irritate and cause soreness.

Culpepper's herbal was written in the mid 1600s. He goes on at some length about each plant in his very lengthy (I would estimate 1000+ entries) reference work and for the majority he includes a sentence on flavor and odor. I have pasted these here. They are not thorough but I feel confident they are correct.

His work includes only herbs he considers to have medical application - oleander, for example, was certainly known to him but does not appear. Some seem unjust; dill for example is said (in comparison to fennel) to have a "stronger and unpleasant scent". !!

It is worth noting that an assassin might not only use potions, but also blown powders, poison daggers etc. Also a contest would include other herbs as well to keep people guessing.

  • $\begingroup$ This is quite useful, but again it describes mostly the plants not so much the prepared poison. I am looking for information a trained assassins could use to detect and identify poisons in, say a glass of wine. $\endgroup$ Apr 26, 2020 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ "It is worth noting that an assassin might not only use potions, but also blown powders, poison daggers etc. Also a contest would include other herbs as well to keep people guessing." - I know this will be only one of the challenges, the full competition will involve code breaking, intercepting messaged, knife throwing ect :) $\endgroup$ Apr 26, 2020 at 14:00

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