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Hemlock plant.

I got a question from a professional woodworker wanting to know if he could market the shellac he used as “all natural,” or if Zinsser put non-natural ingredients in their shellac that didn’t evaporate.

Great question, because it brings up the issue of the safety of “natural” substances. This term is used a lot to indicate that the substance is safe for humans. But there are all sorts of poisons that grow in nature and so are “natural” but not in the way this woodworker is intending to use the term.

The most famous is probably hemlock. It was given to Socrates in ancient Athens to carry out his death sentence. Other natural poisons include castor beans, oleander, tobacco leaves and many types of mushrooms. This is without even mentioning the venom from some types of snakes, which is also natural.

So be wary of using the term “natural” when you mean safe to ingest.

– Bob Flexner


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