This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Mr. Shirley Hibberd says: " This handsome shrub is one of the most poisonous of its class, and therefore should be handled with care, for if the hand is cut when pruning it a dangerous wound may be the result. In Dr. Hogg's ' Vegetable Kingdom ' occurs the following respecting it: - 'It is one of the most beautiful window plants when covered with its large rose-like blossoms; but in these blossoms the weapon of death resides. During the Peninsular war a number of French soldiers who went out foraging near Madrid returned laden with the fruits of their search. One of the number, with the view of securing some wood to make skewers for the meat, cut a quantity of oleander boughs, and, having stripped them of the bark, used the wood in the meat. The result was that out of twelve who ate of the roast seven died, and the rest were dangerously ill. The poisonous principle is so subtle that its exhalations alone are sufficient to cause serious accident, and even death, to those who recline or sleep for any time under their influence".
It may be added to what Mr. Hibberd says, that the stories we have in all modern botanical works about Azalea and Rhododendron of modern botany yielding poisonous honey is purely fictitious. The Oleander was the Rhododendron of the ancients, and when the name was transferred to our present plants, the poisonous reputation went with the name.