By Tommy Clarkson from the October 2010 Edition
Not to my taste!
In the words of an experienced wine connoisseur, they might “present well” and have “a subtle, earthy, bouquet” but these are definitely not delights for human consumption. Of what do we speak? Well, interestingly these are well known plants and flowers (as well as fruits and vegetables) of our households and gardens. In this but brief venue – and at the risk of taking on the nickname “Toxicity Tom” – we’ll discuss but a few that are now growing in my gardens!
Starting with the ubiquitous Dieffenbachia, many are surprised to learn that all of its parts are poisonous and can cause intense burning, irritation, and immobility of the tongue, mouth, and throat thwarting the ability to speak – hence its other name “Dumb Cane” – with swelling so severe as to block breathing and even leading to death.
How beautiful are those flowers of the Allamanda or Golden Trumpet, but a salad thereof would not be wise as the milky sap that oozes out when the broken stems can irritate the skin. A clarification.
Cycasin is not “a comment made as a mocking or deriding remark.” It is a substance found in cycads.
The Sago Palm is such a plant. No surprise here but Cycasin is not in any of our major food groups! If you or your pet munches on any part (most specifically the seeds) of this plant can expect vomiting, increased thirst, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, bruising, melena, icterus, coagulopathy (definitely a trio to avoid), liver damage and/or failure and – perhaps the biggest injury of them all – death!
What of the Desert Rose? Regular readers of my column “Planting Roots in Mexico” will remember that natives from the areas where this plant originated – arid areas of Africa, the Arabian peninsula and Madagascar – sometimes dip their weapons points in its highly toxic sap so as to make fast work of killing their game. Suffice it to say that a lunch of this plant ain’t good for ya’! Many of we southern ex-pats have at least one Ficus Tree of one kind or another All of its 800 varieties have a toxic, milky sap in its leaves and stems that makes your skin itch and puff up.
I’ve a number of varieties of Caladium and Elephant Ear plants – two of my favorites. But, every part of all varieties of both of these common tropical plants can cause intense burning and irritation of the mouth and tongue.
Death can occur if the base of the tongue swells enough to block the air passage of the throat.
Lots of folks first came across Anthurium when visiting Hawaii. Though very pretty, ingestion of any part of these unique looking tropical plants could cause a painful burning, swelling and blistering sensation in one’s mouth with the voice becoming hoarse and strained with a difficulty in swallowing.
We certainly use it. Many folks do in fact. That would be the natural gel of Aloe for sun or kitchen burns. However, this plant’s gel, skin and other inner layers can irritate intestines upon ingestion. (And even for topical use, ensure that the plant’s skin and yellow layer are fully cut away before using.)
What about Amaryllis? By now you well know the drill .. …eat ‘em and suffer diarrhea, nausea, vomiting – but, actually, large quantities of the bulb must be eaten to fully bring on these symptoms.
Swiss-cheese plant or Split-leaf Philodendron are certainly neat looking tropical plants. Though, interestingly, the ripe fruit is edible, consumption of the leaves is not good! (In fact, laboratory mice died after being fed plant extracts.) Symptoms are immediate with loss of voice, blistering, hoarseness, irritation of the mouth.
By now, probably perceived as a “sour apple” by some, I next address a few of our common fruits and vegetables. Sticking to that just mentioned fruit, I’ll be rather “hard core” relating that the seeds of apples actually contain small amounts of cyanide. And while a person won’t die from eating the seeds of a single apple, they could certainly kill you if you ate enough of them.
While I appear to be picking on favorites, the pits of cherries are also poisonous and can cause gasping and prostration. However, their hardness make them hard to digest, so if a person accidentally swallows one, it could be found in the individual’s stool the next day . . . but I’m not looking for it! The same goes for peaches and plums, though the pits are really too big to make swallowing easy, with a person more apt to choke to death!
Tomatoes. U’mmmmmm, I love ‘em – ripe red or fried green! But if you’ve an inclination to eat them raw while still green you are likely to get stomach ache. Particularly poisonous are the leaves. In fact, I’ve read that in feudal Japan some slipped a tomato leaf into the salad of their enemies as a quick resolution of how to eliminate an enemy.
Another favorite of mine – and yes, I even love it raw – is ingredient in one of the very best of pies, don’t try it with he leaves as they contain oxalic acid salts and large amounts of is – consumed either raw or cooked – can lead to kidney problems, convulsions and coma, followed rapidly by death.
We’ll leave the negative aspects of Asparagus, Avocado, Black Walnut, Buckwheat, Kidney/ Lima/Butter Beans, Potatoes and several others for another day.
Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation - Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.