This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
"Inquirer" wants to know why, in spite of well known and recorded facts, we still insist that the Kalmia is not poisonous. It is singular that what we have written about this plant should provoke so much discussion; but it shows a wide spread interest in the question. We have not said it is not poisonous, but that the "recorded facts " do not prove it. What are these recorded facts? It is said in 1790 a number of persons got sick in Philadelphia. Some one "remembered" that the sick people had ate pheasants which were abundantly offered in market that winter, and somebody "remembered" that in cleaning the pheasants the leaves of Kalmia were found in the stomach. On the strength of this the Mayor of Philadelphia issued a proclamation warning the people not to eat pheasants because the flesh of the bird had become poisoned by Kalmia. But it is not the first time a public official Dogberried himself. If he had thought, he might have asked why the poison did not kill the bird as well as the people who ate the bird.
Then as to an ally of the Kalmia, the Rhododendron. Haller in his Stirpium Historium tells of a hare that was fed on Rhododendron leaves, and after a while it was killed and that it " proved fatal" to those who fed on it. He does not tell how many became immortal in consequence of eating of this one hare, but it must have been " awful powerful," as Sairy Gamp would say, to kill in these small pieces. Most likely the wine with which the hare was washed down had something to do with the disaster; at any rate, the wonder to us is, that it did not first kill the hare before it killed the people who ate him. It is also well known that in winter elk and deer in Pennsylvania eat the leaves of Kalmia as freely as sheep eat grass in summer, and there can possibly be no reason why, if it will not kill pheasants, hares, and deer, it should be such deadly poison to a sheep. That sheep have died after eating Kalmia may be true enough; but as chemists can find no trace of poison in Kalmia, why may it not be as likely to come from "getting blown," as when a cow gets into a clover patch, as from the plant being poison? This is all we have said, or have reason to say.