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Heracleum or cow parsnips are high-latitude plants that can produce severe inflammation in humans. They seem like the last thing someone would want to ingest. However:

Flora on Kamchatka: flowers and grasses:

Puchka (Heracleum dulce) is an insidious plant. Its juice has a sweet taste, but leaves blisters and sores on the skin that ache for months! ... Cossacks distilled wine that produced a strange effect: after two or three glasses a person saw wonderful dreams, but in the morning felt so miserable as if he had committed a crime.

Mansfeld's Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops:

A psychoactive drink is made from the plant in Kamchatka.

While the first quote is about something like an accident, the second one seems to describe an ongoing practice. Which culture(s) used this hogweed preparation, and to what ends? Does it still exist today?

  • 2
    Borefts hogweed saison is apparently quite good. – Moishe Kohan Jan 8 '17 at 11:54
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“The northern group of nationalities, especially the Itelmen of Kamchatka, had had another stimulant - wine from 'sweet herb'. The secret of its production passed from them to Russian Cossacks and sedentary Koryaks in the 16th and 17th centuries. For making wine Itelmens used the 'sweet herb' Heracleum dulce Fisch. sem. Umbelliferae). For making grass sugar and wine were used young spring stems, which were usually gathered by women. To avoid the influence of the poisonous juice of the plant they put on gloves. The stored bunches of stems were put in grass bags and kept there until sugar was educed on the stems. Grass sugar was used for making various kinds of Itelmen dainties, beverage, etc. Sometimes the 'sweet herb' was eaten, like betel, in its fresh natural state. The effect of its chewing was similar to that of alcoholic intoxication. The 'sweet herb' was mostly used for making wine.” (Gordon Wasson 1968, Soma: Divine mushroom of immortality, p.337)

Follows a description of how its made.

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The major chronicler of colonial Kamchatka, Krasheninnikov, wrote in Vaughan's translation:

The Russians almost as soon as they reached this country, realized that spirits could be made from it; and today the Imperial Treasury sells nothing else.... The women who prepare this plant wear gloves, because the sap is so poisonous it causes serious swelling wherever it happens to touch one.... The first spirits which are distilled are as strong as ordinary vodka. If this is distilled a second time, it becomes so strong that it will corrode iron.... Even when someone drinks it in small quantities, he will be tormented all night long with wild terrifying dreams, and the next day will still experience a sense of unease and agitation, as profound as if he had committed some crime.

I conclude that the Heracleum liquor was the product of Kamchadal foraging and Russian distilling practices. Whether anyone is still making this product today, I hope to learn in a comment.

PS. Krasheninnikov lifted the part about crime from the report of his colleague Steller.

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