Theophrastus of Greece (372-285 BC) was considered the "father of botany" for many centuries. Among his many writings he described many plants that affect the mind. He stated that the root of oleander mixed with wine, "makes the temper more gentle and more cheerful." One may wonder how this was first discovered. Was someone attempting to poison a very obnoxious person with wine adulterated with oleander and found that this changed his personality and made him more acceptable to the community? We may never know.
It is the RAW parts of the plant that are poisonous and can cause many problems including death--all the parts. The plant is being used in experiments to cure many diseases.
A story has gone around for years concerning a troop of Boy Scouts in Galveston, Texas who were roasting marshmallows and hotdogs on oleander sticks they found on nearby bushes. They ate the hotdogs and marshmallows and some died as a result. This could possibly be a Scout campfire horror story.
Ancient Babylonians used a mixture of oleander and licorice to treat hangovers. Romans soldiers used an extract from oleander for hangovers. It seemed that they all had a hangover problem.
Ancient Greeks are well-known for their finely honed imaginations in storytelling. One Greek legend, of love, of course, tells of a young man named Leander in Turkey who swam the Hellespont every evening (4.7 miles!) after work to see his beloved lady friend named Hero who lived in Greece. That is quite a swim, but she was worth it. She must have had a sparkle in her eye when she winked.
One night, as he swam, a terrible tempest arose and he was drowned. The great waves of the storm dashed his limp but muscular body against the jagged rocks and left him on the white sands turned red with his blood. The beautiful and gentle young Hero searched for him plaintively calling "Oh, Leander--Oh, Leander." When she found his torn and bloody body on the beach his hand was clutching a sprig of oleander. the young maiden took the flower from his hand and kept it as a symbol of their love and planted it. The plant continued to live and to grow. It became a symbol of everlasting love.
To honor the swim of Leander British poet Lord Byron, in 1810, became the first documented person to swim across the Hellespont from Greece to Turkey. Remember, this is 4.7 miles he swam.
Annually, on August 30, and for 25 years to date, a large number of men and women swim across the Hellespont to commemorate the final victory of the Turks in the Turkish War of Independence in 1922 against the Greeks.
Texans may tell us that it is believed that Jean Lafitte, a French privateer who helped Gen. Andrew Jackson protect New Orleans from attacks of the British in 1815, is believed to have planted oleander plants on Galveston Island. The story tells us that he attacked a Norwegian schooner and killed all aboard except for a man who was clinging to a lovely blooming plant. Lafitte was touched by this act and made the man his gardener. The man was Ole Anderson. Lafitte, we are told, called him Olea Ander.
We are also told that merchant Joseph Osterman was the one who brought oleander to Galveston in 1841 for his wife.
One way or the other, Galveston, Texas is famous for its beautiful oleander plants that were first planted along Broadway, the entrance to the city. This flower helped beautify the island after the devastating hurricane destruction in 1900. The Women's Health Protective Assocation organized to beautify the island and improve health conditions there. The home of the International Oleander Society is found there. The city is called "The Oleander city." Lady Bird Johnson was even consulted in this endeavor.
In parts of India mourners will place oleanders around the bodies of dead relatives. Look further along in this flower trivia series for "Flowers Grown on Graves" to see why flowers, in the past, were originally used around bodies.
There is currently a post-grunge band named Oleander. It hails from Sacramento, CA and is named for the oleander plants growing along the highways there.
Oleander is the official flower of Hiroshima, Japan.