Assassin’s arsenal: The 17th Century “Cabinet Book” Contained Herbs that Could Either Kill or Heal

By | September 30, 2017

The book below appears voluminous, but anyone who thought it has too much text inside is wrong.

The interior is crafted into 11 drawers in varying sizes, with each drawer fitted with a jar made of glass. Although empty, labels attached to each drawer containing a bottle clarifies what the purpose was. This hollow 17th century book was either an assassin’s arsenal with a bunch of toxic herbs and poisons, or a medicinal kit of sorts for healers and medicinal practitioners. We will never know for sure.

Inspected from beginning to end (starting left to right and moving top to bottom), here are what each drawer used to store:

First Drawer: contains a poisonous herb known as the henbane. Some of the first known usages of this herb go back to ancient Greece. It is said to be the poison that kills Shakespeare Hamlet’s father after being poured into his ear. However, the same plant is known to have been used by our medieval ancestors to heal tooth pains and even rheumatism.

Second Drawer: contains an even more powerful herb - the opium poppy. Today this plant is noted for producing dangerous illegal drugs, but in medieval days it's more likely used as a painkiller.

Third Drawer: has been reserved for the herb monkshood or wolf’s bane. In the olden days, this herb was added to the tip of a weapon, such as a spear, to make the weapon poisonous. Ancient Roman assassins were fond of it, which is why at one point, wolf's bane was largely forbidden throughout the Roman empire. If prescribe in proper dosage, it can be used as a painkiller, to prevent infections, and even to treat coronary disease by widening the veins.

Fourth Drawer: the Latin inscription read Cicuta Virosa, a type of toxin that affected the functionality of the central nervous system.

Fifth Drawer: contains Byronia Alba, can be very poisonous if not consumed with caution. Handled by a healer, Byronia Alba would be used to treat severe poisoning and stomach pains.

Sixth Drawer: contains the herb known as the Devil's snare or the jimsonweed. Medieval medicinal practitioners may have used it as a painkiller. However, consumed in higher doses, this herb could cause hallucinations as well as death.

Seventh Drawer: contains the lovely pink flower of valerian. This is considered one of the safest herbs stored in the hollow book. It's taken nowadays as a pill by people who experience insomnia or stress and anxiety. The usage of valerian root did not differ very much several centuries ago.

Eight Drawer: contains February daphne, commonly known as spurge laurel, which is found to be exceptionally toxic. The herb results in choking, vomiting, and an unpleasant death. Old medicinal texts indicate that its bark can be used as an ingredient in a number of liniments and compresses for various skin complaints as well as for snake bites, and the root possibly chewed to relieve toothache.

Ninth Drawer: stored the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), which is still in use today in herbal and homeopathic remedies.

Tenth Drawer: contains the Autumn crocus, well known for its poisonous properties. Colchicine is a synthetic derivative of Autumn crocus used in modern pharmaceutics to treat gout. Medicinal recipes from the 16th century also show that it was used as an ingredient for a potion that treated the same disease, as well as arthritis and rheumatism. When ingested in its natural state, Autumn crocus is quite dangerous.

Eleventh Drawer: similar to monkshood, the herb belladonna (deadly nightshade) is known to have been used as an anesthetic as well as in cosmetics. This too was employed as a poison that would often be added to the tip of an arrow. It was another favorite among assassins in Ancient Rome, especially if we bear in mind that allegedly Roman emperors lost their lives due to belladonna poisoning.

H/t Hermann Historica