Introduction Between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, many people died by cruel and horrible deaths of buring at the stake, hanging, or being tortured. The estimates of people killed ranged up to the millions which included men, women, children, and even aristocrats as they were accused of witchcraft. Although, poor and elderly women were the ones effected the most from multitudes of paranoia and delusions in those centuries. However, certain molecules played a role in this discrimination that ultimately led millions to their demise.
Toil and Trouble Witchcraft, prior to 1350, was regarded as sorcery where one controls nature in their own interest by protecting crops or people and casting spells to influence or provide. It was accepted in Europe and it was only a crime if sorcery was used to harm. Indolent accusations were avoided because people victims of maleficium were able to seek help from a witch and only become liable for penalty if they were unable to prove their case. In all, witchcraft was just part of folklore.
A new attitude emerged around the fourteenth century when Christianity was opposed to magic. It only allowed magic sanctioned by the church and not the ones conducted outside since they believed that witches were in league with the devil. The crime of practicing sorcery became so terrible in the eyes of people that by the mid-fifteenth century, there were no more trials for the witches, but accusations were enough evidence to kill. The deeds that people regarded with witches transgressed rationality, but they were still fervently believed.
A large percentage of women were accused as witches since it was believed that whenever disaster stuck, people would exclaimed that women have been working together with demons at a witches’ gathering. The killings definitely too its toll on both Catholic and Protestant countries as the height of the witch-hunt paranoia left no women in Swiss villages, some regions in Germany had its village population burned. In England and Holland, the accused had to undergo the water test that had them thrown into a pond and if they floated, they were a true which.
If they were innocent, it was a comfort to their families, but they still drowned. As the witch-hunt terror gradually faded, the economy was threatened since so many people were accused and killed. When the Age of Enlightenment came, people opposed the madness and the witch-hunts ceased. So, by the eighteenth century, executions for practicing witchcraft came to a halt for the Church and state, but the public weren’t ready to give up on the fear of witchcraft that built over the centuries. Although many of the women killed were herbalists who were skilled in using local plants to cure diseases and provide pain relief.
They were often relied upon for spells or removal of hexes since some of their herbs had healing powers that would seem magical. Although, using the herbal medicine and prescribing them were dangerous because different parts of the plant contain ranging levels of effective compounds, like how plants from different locations can vary in their ability to cure or the different times of year they’re harvested would change how much does they contain. Many plants were beneficial, but there were ones that can have poison depending on their molecules.
So, the molecules in these plants may yet brand a herbalist as a witch. Healing Herbs, Harmful Herbs Many plants contain were used to relieve pain and prevent illnesses, like the salicylic acid in willow trees were used for aspirin or how the root of the celery were used to prevent muscle cramps. Also, Digitalis was an extract from the common foxglove and its molecules helped in reducing the heart rate and regularize heart rhythm. It strengthens the heartbeat too. The digoxin molecule helps with cardiac glycoside or the heart.
For example, in 1795, a British physician named William Withering used the foxglove extracts for treating congestive heart failure. It was not until more then a century after that scientists were able to identify the molecule responsible for its curable abilities with cardiac glycoside. Three sugar unitsThe steroid ring system In the Digitalis extract, there are also many other molecules that’s similar to digoxin, like the digtoxin molecule. It lacks the OH and similar cardiac glycoside molecules are in other plants that are often members of the lily or ranunculus families.
The molecules have the same structural features though,so they’re likely resposible for the caridac effect. All have five membered lactone ring that’s attached to the end of the steroid system with an extra OH in between the C and D rings of the steroid system. lactone ring extra OH between C and D rings Molecules affecting the heart are not found in plants. Toxin compounds found in animals are similar to the structures of cardiac glycosides found in plants. The molecules don’t have sugar or used as heart stimulants, but they are poison and have little medical value.
The venom is extracted from amphibians, like the frog or toad that are used as arrow poisons and the common anima attributed with witches since in folklore, it is said that many potions made by witches contained toad parts. Bufotoxin is a molecule that’s an active component of venom from the common European toad. It’s one of the most toxic molecules with structures showing similarities to the steroid system ring of the digitoxin molecule with same extract OH between the C and D rings. The difference is that it has a six membered lactone ring instead of a five membered. ix-membered lactone ring extra OH between C and D rings Bufotoxin is a cardiac poison and not a cardiac restorative, but in addition to toads and foxglove, another myth about witches was that they were able to fly. Many accused as wtiches confessed to flying and the possible chemical explanation is that it had to do with a group of compounds called alkaloids. Alkaloids, plant compounds, have more than one nitrogen atoms that’s usually part of a ring of carbon atoms. They have had a large effect on human history than any other chemicals and affects the central nervous system in humans.
They’re highly toxic, but they have been used as medicine for thousands if years. Chemical substances play a role in protecting plants since alkaloids are natural fungicides, insecticide, and pesticides. So, humans ingest about a gram and a half of natural pesticide every day from plants and plant products. This leads to the physiological effects on humans. Although they have been used medicinally for centuries. For example, Acrecaidine, alkaloid found in betel nuts, is used as a stimulant in Africa and the East.
Ephedrine, from the ma huang plant, has been used in Chinese herbal medicine and now used as a decongestant and bronchodilator in the West. Members of the vitamin B family include; thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), and niacin (B3). They’re classed as alkaloids. Reserpine is used to treat high blood pressure and be a tranquilizer from the Indian snakeroot plant. Alkaloids don’t just have toxicity, but they’re also poisonous too. The hemlock plant, responsible for the death of philosopher Socrates in 399 B. C. , is the alkaloid coniine.
Coniine has a simple structure, but highly poisonous than the complicated structure of strychnine from seeds of Asiatic trees. ConiineStrychnine Mandrake and henbane contains very similar alkaloids. The two main types are hyoscyamine and hyoscine, which are found in mandrakes, belladonna, and henbane in various proportions. Atropine is a form of hyoscyamine and is valued for its use in dilute solutions, like to dilate the pupil of the eye for ophthalmic examinations. Although, too much can be unsafe and the first symptom of atropine poisoning is the drying of bodily fluids.
So, it is used in areas where there’s hypersecretion of mucus or saliva that interferes with surgery. Scopolamine, a hyoscine, is used as an anesthetic. It has euphoric effects like atropine and prevents motion sickness. Difference between the two Scopolamine Neither atropine and scopolamine alkaloids are soluble in water. The “witches” of Europe knew that swallowing the compounds will lead to death rather than the euphoric, intoxicating sensations they wanted. So, the extracts of mandrake, belladonna, and henbane were dissolved in oils and applied to the skin.
Witches also used these salves in regards with flying, although they weren’t actually “flying. ” The alkaloids brought on hallucinations which led to the sensations of flying among other things as the comalike sleep happens in the last stage. This temporarily escape from reality from these molecules brought confessions from those women and they were burnt at the stake. The Ergot Alkaloids There is another group of alkaloids that devasted communities with its effects. People attributed the disasters with evil spells casted by witches.
They’re found in the ergot fungus that affects cereal grains such as rye. After bacteria and viruses, ergotism is the next-largest microbial killer, like how ergotamine causes blood vessels to constrict or how ergonovine induces abortions in humans. Also, large numbers of villagers most likely attained ergotism since rainy periods would envoke fungus to grow on the rye and poor storage promotes the growth. Most people thought their village was bewitched and blamed innocent women, especially if they don’t have symptoms of ergotism.
Even though ergotism was known for a long time, the cause being hinted around 600 B. C. from reports as the Assyrians observed “a noxious pustule in the ear of grain” and ergot alkaloids from “noxious grasses” caused miscarriages in cattle in 400 B. C. , the first recorded occurrence wasn’t until A. D. 857 in Europe. There were periodic outbreaks that occurred up to the twentienth century. For example, ergotism played a role in reducing the effectiveness of Julius Caesar’s army and restricted him from his goals to enlarge the Roman Empire.
Initially, ergotism seemed the answered the the Salem witch-hunts. The symptoms of ergot poisoning cannot be stopped, so victims would use that to their advantage and accuse neighbors. So, the suffering of these people and their families can be traced back to ergot molecules. Ergot alkaloids are toxic, but have a history of therapeutic use. For example, they were used to hasten birthds or help with abortions and today they are used to treat migraine headaches, postpartum bleeding, and be stimulants for uterine contractions in childbirth.
Ergot alkaloids have the same common chemical feature; they’re derivatives lysergic acid. The OH group of lysergic acid is replaced by a larger side group. Replaced OH group Lysergic AcidErgotamine In all, neither the atropine or ergot alkaloids caused witchcraft, but there effects were evidence against many women. In the medieval world, women were killed becaused they had knowledge on medicinal plants, but it has proven to be helpful in the present-day world as there are many various pharmaceuticals. So, the folklore of the past can be of assistance to treating many conditions and diseases.