When Sir Walter Raleigh led an expedition to South America in the 1595, he and his men were famously greeted by a hail of poisoned arrows.
The tips of the arrows were coated with curare, a poison made from the Strychnos toxifera plant. Centuries later, curare is now used in operating rooms by surgeons to heal people rather than harm them.
Fox News’ Medicine Hunter, Chris Kilham, took a trip to the New York Botanical Garden, located in the Bronx, to learn more about this versatile plant. During his visit, he spoke with Dr. Michael Balick, vice-president and Director of the Institute of Economic Botany and a world-renowned expert on poisons.
“Curare is used as a muscle relaxer in medicine,” Balick said. “In surgery, you want to relax the muscles so the surgeon can cut less, and so you can heal faster.”
The plant toxin can also keep patients from involuntarily tensing up during surgeries that require a high degree of precision.
Surgeons stopped using curare in favor of newer neuromuscular blocking drugs, but until recently much of the medicine that was produced for Western pharmacopeia was derived from the plant extract, Kilham said.