Fun Fact: Plants as weapons

July 28, 2022

Fun Fact: The seeds of the velvet bean plant cause such intense itching that they were weaponized by the British during WW2.

Hairs lining the seed pods of Mucuna pruriens, or velvet bean, contain serotonin and mucunain, which cases sever itching when touched. Scratching the affected area spreads the hairs and the itching, causing victims to scratch uncontrollably.

In an effort to demoralize the Third Reich during WW2, the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) smuggled itching powder made from M. pruriens to resistance groups working as laundresses and clothiers. The powder was applied to clothing, bedding, and toilet paper, but was particularly effective when applied to clothing touching “the more tender parts of the human anatomy”. The powder was so irritating that a U-Boat had to return to port for medical treatment because crew uniforms had been contaminated with it, causing an outbreak severe dermatitis.