Snow White: Could An Apple Kill?


“How I wish that I had a daughter that had skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony.”

Fairyology Episode 3

599936-snow_white1_large.jpgToday we turn our attention to the well-wishing, house-cleaning, magic-mirroring princess. It’s Snow White! Now if for some strange reason you’ve been living under a rock for the post 2000 years and don’t know this particular princess let me give you a little run down of the story.

A queen wished for a daughter that had everything in the quote above. Luckily for this queen her wish was granted and they called the baby Snow White however she died shortly after giving birth. So her king had to look after Snow White. Then the king gets remarried, now you must know that this isn’t going to be good. Snows step mother has this mirror and it’s magic. Her step mum talks to the mirror everyday and asks it who is the fairest of them all. Now all while snow is growing up it always says the she is the fairest. Until (dun, dun duuuuuhhh) it says that Snow is now the fairest! So the evil step mum orders Snow killed. The man charged with this actually just squirrels her away into the woods where she lives with seven dwarfs. The evil queen finds out and then goes hunting for her. After several failed plots she succeeds with a poison apple which puts Snow into a deep sleep. Lucky for Snow her boyf comes to her rescue and wakes her with true loves kiss. Happy ending woohoo! (1)

But let’s rewind one hot second, a poisoned apple! Thats a biology goldmine! What could’ve poisoned it! Well as per usual I’ve come up with some theories, let’s get stuck in!

Theory 1 = Poison Hemlock

1Now way back when I did a post on poison hemlock, it sparked my series the poisons
collection. So I won’t go into the intricacy’s of this wonderful poisonous plant instead I’ll skip to how this plant could be linked to the poisoned apple. This plants poisons are slow working but they are also extremely potent. When consumed the poisons cause paralysis which works well with the story of Snow going into a deep sleep. All parts of the plant contains the poisons so you wouldn’t need much to lace the apple for it to take effect. (2) From history this plant has been used to kill lots of people most famously Socrates! (3) This could have easily been the perfect plan for the evil queen, so how did she survive with this theory? Well clearly the Prince gave snow the antidote with his kiss. Whatever lip balm he uses I want it!

Theory 2 = Deadly Nightshade

Another plant that has been featured on the poisons collection in this post. Deadly Nightshade grows across Europe (where Snow White is set). It has some really edible looking berries, filled with poison that again causes paralysis. It’s said that the effects work quite quickly. Although the most potent part of the plant is considered to be the root; a handful of berry juice inserted into the apple would be enough! (4).

Theory 3 = The Apple Itself? 

Did you know that apple seeds contain cyanide! Yeah however due to the hard coating outside the seed the body rarely even sees the cyanide even if you do swallow a seed. So how would this work for cyanide to be the poison in the apple? Firstly the evil queen would have to produce a really really seedy apple. The amount of cyanide in each seed is so minimal you would need alot of seeds to do any harm. Secondly she would have to make the coating on the seeds weaker in some way or made sure snow chewed it very thoroughly. Then and only then would the cyanide be able to do some damage. Yeah that’s probably not that likely!

In conclusion I really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode, it was inspired by a poster I did way back in my third year of my bachelors degree. Til’ next time check out my links below and come say hi on your social media of choice!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!





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A Short History Of Poison Hemlock

The poisons collection

As a part of a recent project for university, I along with a group of my peers were looking into poisonous plants. I found the topic both fascinating and frightening however I only had a limited word count and wanted to pay a bit more attention to my favourite poisonous plant; Hemlock.

In 339BC the greek philosopher Socrates was sentenced death. His crime was of corrupting the yo2uth of Athens. His avid student Plato witnessed his death. The story goes as follows: Socrates was brought a drink. He drank the drink and then walked around his cell until his legs felt heavy, then he lay down. A guard asked whether he could feel his feet and legs, he replied that he could not. A short while later Socrates became silent and he died. Within the drink was the infamous poison from the poison Hemlock plant.

From the family Apiaceae, Conuium maculatum is a highly poisonous herbaceous flowering plant. The plant is a perennial (meaning to live for more than two years unlike and annual that lives for 1 or biennials that live for 2) and native to Europe. It grows within fields and pastures, preferring wet soils and coastal areas. It is easily confused with parley due to the lacy look of the plant.

The plant has five alkaloids making it incredibly deadly. The poison has bee1n said to work from the outside in. A complete mad man by the name of John Harley stated that “There was a distinct impairment of motor power.” He was a British doctor and took small amount of the plant experimentally and published his findings in 1869. It is now known that the poison has paralysing effects. Starting off by the numbing of the limbs and eventually paralysing the lungs.

I think the most horrifying thing about this plant is that it is said to have no effect on the brain. This meaning that you have to endure this horrible process entirely conscious.

Most deaths from the plant are due to misidentification. Most recently a lady from Washington state died in 2010 after eating a salad containing poison Hemlock. Between 1972 and 1990 there were 17 cases of hemlock poisoning. Although this was due to wild birds eating hemlock and being unaffected by it. Then the birds were eaten and due to the toxins remaining active one person died from respiratory failure and three died from kidney failure.

This all being said the key difference and thing to look for when trying to avoid the tragic deaths of those previously mentioned would be to look at the stems of the plant. Poison Hemlock stems are hollow and speckled with purple blotches. The leaves when crushed have an odour described as smelling of parsnips or of mice and on that note I’ll leave you.

See you next week!

If you are interested in the wonderful world of poisonous and dangerous plants I highly recommend Amy Stewarts book “Wicked Plants”. It is such a readable and entertaining book.