Aug 24, 2009

Castor Beans in the Chicken Yard

A home not far from ours has some large leafed vegetation that is well over six feet tall. The huge plants are familiar because they used to provide good shade around Mother's old chicken yard. I stopped to talk with the very nice lady of the house who said the plants came from the 'old country,' but she didn't know the plant name.

The lady's plants are the castor bean. Even though rather dumb, chickens will eat or scratch up other plants but won't touch the castor bean plant. Planting castor beans on the west and south edges of the chicken yard in the springtime meant our chickens had a cool spot in which to rest during the hot summertime months.

Mother always reminded us kids not to play with or eat the castor beans [that contain the poison ricin], just like she warned us not to eat rhubarb leaves that contain poison [oxalates]. We farm children usually listened carefully to warnings about many things, such as not to get too close to the water well, or how horses and cows can kick (horses mostly backwards; cows mostly sideways), and how straw hats were needed when working in the sun.

Training in listening to and heeding warnings is good practice to maintain a long and healthy life. Yet many times, the warning is like for fire--good when used appropriately, and dangerous at other times. That's the case with the good castor bean plant, such as is pointed out by Anne Marie's Chemistry Blog.