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The Intoxication Season, Mind Altering Plants and Fungi at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Very few people live their lives without using some kind or mood or mind-altering substance. 

From 20th September until 12th October at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, an Intoxication Season will explore the secret history behind mind-altering plants and fungi: from the opium poppy with chemical powers that have shaken economic and political worlds for centuries, to extraordinary ‘ordinary’ plants such as coffee and tobacco, cemented in culture, consumed by humans daily for their effects. 

Visitors will discover how plants’ identities have been manipulated through time, sometimes portrayed as friend, sometimes as foe, when in actuality no plant is inherently a drug, a medicine, or a poison.

From notorious plants in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, to the Bompas and Parr Plant Connoisseurs’ Club, the season will highlight the ensnaring, bewitching and lethal offerings from the natural world and show just how powerful their chemicals can be.

  • Architectural foodsmiths Bompas and Parr return once again to Kew to launch a Plant Connoisseurs’ Club in the Secluded Glasshouse: part-workshop, part-talk, part-interactive-experience, the club will explore unfamiliar yet culturally significant plants consumed around the world, from ceremonial uses, to familiar daily caffeine fixes. For over 18s only. Willing participants will be offered the chance to try an unusual plant.
  • An exposition including the tobacco plant and opium poppies in the Princess of Wales Conservatory will provide visitors with a rare opportunity to glimpse many of the world’s most notorious plants. Discover the innocuous looking specimens which navigate a fine line between salvation and condemnation depending on their chemical usage and dosage.
  • Enjoy delectable drinks at Kew’s Botanical Beverages Bar and learn about plants’ roles in crafting some of the nation’s most loved alcoholic concoctions, from hops to juniper.
  • Throughout four Spotlight Weekends, alcohol, cannabis, coffee and magic mushrooms will be looked at in turn during a series of thought-provoking talks and workshops in hubs across the Gardens: Guest speakers and experts including Professor David Nutt and Kew’s Professor Simmonds will share their knowledge and explore contentious subjects in depth, demonstrating that perspectives and uses of specific mind-altering plants have many variations across history and different cultures. Visit the Kew website close to the festival for a full programme of talks and debates.


Notes to Editors:

For images visit Kewimages. Please contact Kew’s press office for a username and password.

For more information on the festival, or any of Kew’s work, please contact the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Press Office on 020 8332 5607 or email

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract over 1.5 million visits every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives approximately half its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.