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Fabaceae, Erythrophleum suaveolens, Ordeal Tree

October 23, 2009

The Ordeal Tree, as one might guess, is an extremely hazardous plant, both a neurotoxin and heart poison.

Native to the African tropics, Madagascar, Asia and Australia, E. suaveolens is in a genus of nine other species with similar properties, including E. lasianthum, E. succirubrum, and E. africanum.

This species is notorious for its use in trial-by-ordeal ritual of African origin in which the accused is given a concoction made from the macerated bark. If they vomit, it is considered a sign of innocence. However, if the poison is not expelled by vomiting, the person will almost certainly die. Very high does are much more likely to have an emetic effect, thus the individual administering the poison can play a role in determining the outcome of the ordeal. Also interesting is the supposition that an innocent person will tend to be more eager to drink all of the liquid down, anticipating that they will vomit it up, whereas a guilty person, knowing they are guilty, will tend to drink slower, thus unknowingly increasing their chances of fatal poisoning.

Bark extracts have also been used as arrow and fish poison. Bark powder of E. lasianthum has been traditionally used by the Zulu to treat pains associated with fever and headache.

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