Drugs and Food

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Drugs and Food points to ways in which foods can have a psychoactive effect on consumers, as well as, if lucky, nourishing or sustaining them. These effects divide, like Gaul, into three: hallucinogenic, stimulating, narcotic or stupefying. This entry, however, unlike William Emboden’s handy manual Narcotic Plants (1979)—or the far grander Linnaeus’s Inebriantia of 1761—will not provide a succinct list of ingredients for rapturous cookery.

Until Paracelsus and his chemist successors, our pharmacopeia was plant-based, but that did not mean all plants were good for you (see food poisoning). As proof of this, belladonna (deadly nightshade) was used as a painkiller, and served as a useful poison in imperial Rome. But it is also a strong hallucinogen (mixed with opium it could make witches fly), so long as you get the dose right (now is not the time to experiment).