Food and drink: Piquing your poisonous side 

Make mine a double, with a strychnine shooter

When I told my husband I was going to be writing about poison and food and some of their wicked little permutations for Halloween this week, he laughed and said, don't do too much research.

Sadly, I think, good old-fashioned poisons have pretty much fallen off the radar screen for killing people these days. Unless you're somebody like P. D. James, Colin Dexter or Agatha Christie, who routinely relied on them for some of their best work, most of us don't even consider poison as a viable murder option.

Guns it is now. Guns, with toxins and chemicals lurking in the background all around us. Number one poisoner of children in the U.S.: cosmetics and personal care products. Number one poisoner of adults: pain medicine.

Nothing like medieval or Victorian times when deliciously romantic poisoning, intentional and otherwise, ran amok.

No, if you're going to be a poisoned corpse these days - and I'm talking big-time thriller-type poisonings here, not your everyday incidents - it's more likely you'll find your tea or cake laced with something terribly post-post-modern, like radioactive waste, as the poor ex-Russian spy, Mr. Litvinenko, did.

Something as dull and pedestrian as arsenic? Forget it.

Although, that said, the KGB did do in a Bulgarian they feared not that long ago with an umbrella tip laced with ricin, a poison that comes from castor beans. So you never know, there could be some decent poisoning going on as a sideline, somewhere, somehow...

I remember being duly terrified of castor bean plants by my in-laws when I first moved to Hawaii, for they grew wild there like devil's club which, by the way, is not poisonous despite its somewhat wicked appearance.

A giant castor bean plant growing in a neglected corner of their garden at the time served as the model for instruction: DO NOT EAT (in all caps), accidentally or otherwise.

Its fleshy carmine stems, fantastic but somewhat sinister-looking leaves and the beautifully coloured beans that looked like they'd been coated with an ancient raku glaze made me feel sorry for it. All that bad PR for such a gorgeous plant.

I was shocked a while back when I saw a castor bean plant growing in a city-landscaped bed at English Bay in Vancouver. What the heck, I thought, didn't they know better? Or maybe they did... Those plump, fleshy, magically coloured beans would be an enticement to all sorts of creatures, unwanted and not.

Still and all, you can pick up more than a few poisonous tips from murder mysteries, either in written or celluloid form, making them not a bad place to start learning about poison and how one might go about taking proper advantage of it.

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