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Originally posted by whitewave
What comes to mind when you hear the word "poison"? Do you envision some poor victim dropping his tainted wine glass, clutching his throat and vainly gasping a few tortured last breaths before collapsing on the floor?
Upon arising this morning did you pour yourself a cup of coffee, light a cigarette, pop a couple of aspirin for the pounding headache received from last night's indulgences at the local bar? Then you had 3 poisons for breakfast and at least 1 last night.
Most so-called toxins, poisons and dangerous substances are dose dependent. Even some of the most horrifying poisons (botulism, cyanide, alcohol) can be rendered safe to ingest by just heating them to the proper temp for the proper amount of time.
Many known poisons are used therapeutically to alleviate suffering-(Ergot for migraine headaches), combat illnesses-(all antibiotics), as foods-(apricots, plums and apples contain cyanide), or in cosmetics-(Botox derived from botulism).
As a long time survivalist, I've noticed a not so subtle shift of late in the literature regarding self-reliance on your local flora. It seems that the newer books (about 1995-present) suggest that if you so much as pick a wildflower to adorn your dinner table, at the very least, you'll be expected to stay indoors for fear of photodermatitis; at the worst, you'll have inadvertently absorbed some toxic essential oil that will have you dead before dessert is served.
Common sense should tell you 2 things: 1) don't believe everything you read. I've found errors and misleading information written by alleged "experts" who were sloppy and or lazy with their research, and 2) use critical thinking skills before popping something in your mouth.
Alarmist literature designed to keep you forever dependent on the food and drug manufacturers aside, do a little study to see if a plant has been used in the past, what it was used for, how was it prepared, what parts of the plants were used, etc. If a plant contains some substance known to be harmful, find out what amount is required to produce the harmful effects and if there are any ways to neutralize their deleterious hazards.
Some plants have clues in the name. "Death camus" just sounds like something that would keep you moving on in search of greener pastures. "Skunk cabbage" does not sound delicious or therapeutic. Anything with the words "poison" (poison ivy, poison hemlock), "bane" (dogbane, baneberry), "deadly" (deadly nightshade), should probably be left alone. If part of it's name is "stinging" or "prickly", wear gloves when collecting it.
I just finished reading a few books on wild edibles and medicinal plants. Of special interest to me was the dire warnings associated with many plants which contain oxalic acid. Apparently this substance will burn your lips off and eat a hole through your gut as you lie writing in agony. I have wood sorrel growing in my yard and I eat it. Yep, I just wash it, toss it in my spinach salad (which also contains oxalic acid) and, for texture, throw in a few dried cranberries (also harbingers of the destructive oxalic acid). Not wanting to suffer acid reflux later, I usually have my oxalic acid salad with a side of cottage cheese which apparently precipitates the acid as an insoluble calcium salt. Don't get me wrong-oxalic acid poisoning is a possibility and an ugly way to end your day but basic high school chemistry should help you avoid most unpleasantness.
Listed below are a few of the warnings I came across in the literature that irked me enough to start this thread. Many of the fear-mongering tactics, however are not without some basis in fact.
For example: botulism is one of the most deadly poisons known to man. It's right up there with marriage and property taxes. Amounts in the MICROGRAMS can and will kill you dead. Botulism is found in soil and animal intestines in anaerobic conditions; especially improperly preserved meats or low acid veggies (string beans). Symptoms can occur 12-36 hours after ingestion so taking a small bite and waiting a few hours (or even most of a day) to see if symptoms develop is not always a safe method of trying known plants. It does, however, lose it's toxicity when heated to 176 degrees F for 30 minutes or boiled (212 F) for 10 minutes. And, since it's also found in the soil, you might want to thoroughly wash even (maybe [U]especially[/U])the produce you get from the supermarket.
Ergot is a black fungus found on some grass grains, especially rye. It's easy to miss when mechanically harvesting large amounts of grain. It's a powerful vasoconstrictor and if you survive an encounter with ergot you may stilll suffer from gangrene of the extremities. It's hallucinogenic (NOT for recreational uses!) and teratogenic. It helps to know where you're geting your grains but if, like most of us, you just get what's on sale at the grocery store, see if you have any black flecks in your flour and pick them out. Farmers who have an infected crop can soak the seeds in a 30% KCL solution. The ergot floats off and the uninfected seed remains. Then plough the field to get rid of the spores and plant something else the next year to prevent another outbreak of ergot. Occurs most in "wet" years. The wild forager will simply look for (and avoid) black spots.
Aflatoxin comes from some strains of Aspergillus (flavus and parasiticus). Even if you eat healthy and avoid eating lawn clippings altogether, you can still get this one. Peanut butter made with organic peanuts are a popular source of aflatoxin poisoning as is corn and grains.
Alkaloids are the main concern in plant foraging. Alkaloids are a nitrogen-containing base produced by plants. Many ARE poisonous and most are at least biologically active (which is not always a bad thing). Atropine and scopalamine (found in Jimsonweed, aka, Datura stramonium), nicotine (found in tobacco, aka, Nicotiana tobacum), morphine and codeine (Papaver somniferum), caffeine (found in Yaupon holly, aka, Ilex vomitoria) are "poisons" that are all used medicinally.
Common garden peas seem harmless enough and in moderate amounts they are harmless. Apparently it was discovered during one of civilization's many famines that peas, when eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner will render a person permanently paralyzed. Even if you later quit eating the peas, the paralysis remains. All things in moderation.
Even perfectly good water is deadly in large enough amounts. It's called water intoxication and will lyse (burst open) your cells. So when you see that something is reported to be toxic-ask, "what constitutes a toxic dose of this substance?"
Not all plants contain equal amounts of a toxin either. Solanine is a poisonous alkaloid contained in some wild plants but it's also in the tomatoes and potatoes you buy at the supermarket. If you peel your potatoes (or at least cut out the green and brown spots) you've gotten rid of the solanine. Also, boiling (but not baking) removes most of solanine.
Saponins are a glucoside of some "soapy" plants (yucca, soapwort, etc.) They can breakdown red blood cells even in small doses, but if you don't eat a gluttonous amount, you'll be fine. Alfalfa contains saponins.
Selenium helps with oxygen utilization, improves immunity and slows cancer cells. Unfortunately some plants (Indian paintbrush, etc.) absorb more than their fair share of the element from the soil and are concentrated sources of harmful amounts. Astragalas plants are good indicators of selenium-rich soils.
It seems that tannins (found in nuts and bark of trees and some plants) us both carcinogenic and anticancer. Maybe its effect is dependent on it's dose? Kind of like aspirin-therapeutic in small doses and poisonous in excessive amounts. Tannins are also used as an astringent and in wound healing.
Cyanide will ruin (and end) your day. It's found in elderberry bark, roots and leaves. The berries and flowerheads make delicious and safe jams or wines. Cherries? The whole tree will kill you except the cherry. Not all of a plant is always edible or medicinal. Different chemicals are concentrated in different parts of the plant. Proper preparation may be all that's needed to render a harmful plant to a nutritious or therapeutic one.
Flax (Linium usitatissimum) has a cyanide-like compound but is safe to eat after cooking. Cyanide is volatile so cooking will free the plant of the poison. Pits and seeds are the usual culprits. I don't know a lot of people that eat apricot pits or apple seeds but, if you wanted, you could dry them in the sun, crack them, remove the kernel, crush or grind the kernel then leech in running water for several hours. After this, it could be cooked as mush or dried and stored to use later.
Basically, if you want to experiment with or investigate wild plants in your area-fear not. Some plants are well-known edibles (plantain) and plenty of good info is available on proper preparation, recipes, medicinal uses, et. A little common sense and some basic knowledge will serve you well.
Helpful Plant Factoids*
*Pokeweed (Phytolucca americana) plant juice can damage chromosomes but the cooked leaves and shoots stimulate white blood cell production.
*Stinging nettle leaves (Urtica diorica) are rich in iron and inhibit the effects of adrenaline.
*Linden tea (Tilia americana) damages the heart if consumed regularly.
*Prickly poppy (Papaver somniferum) seed oil ingestion causes glaucoma and edema.
*Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota) weakens the effect of some poisons and is proven to be more antitussive than codeine.
*Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has shown itself beneficial in treating amanita mushroom poisoning (but it doesn't make me any less paranoid about experimenting with 'shrooms).
*Source: Petersons Field Guide Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants.
thread originally posted on P2S.
Originally posted by JDBlack
Nice information. A basic rule of eating plants that most seem to agree on: "if you can't identify it and be positive that it is safe don't eat it." Not everyone can identify plants very well, even with pictures, so just be careful about what you eat in nature, seems to be a good guideline. If you have the knowledge use it to get more food.
Thanks for starting this post.
* In general, avoid thorns or spines. If such a plant has aggregate berries, the berries are safe to eat. Other exceptions include thistles and prickly pear cacti. * Avoid mushrooms or other fungi. While many fungi are edible, there are many that are deadly, and if you are untrained they can be very difficult to tell apart even after you have tested one. * Avoid plants with shiny leaves. * Avoid plants with yellow, white or red berries. * Avoid Hollyberries which are red and juicy these are highly toxic except to birds. * Avoid plants with umbrella-shaped flowers. * Avoid plants with milky sap (You should not eat dandelion stems, but all other parts are edible). * Do not eat plants that have been penetrated by worms, insects, or parasites. * Do not feed any animals any plants. * Do not assume a plant that is edible when cooked is also edible raw. * Do not assume that a plant is safe if you see animals eating it. * Once you have determined a plant is edible, take care to make sure that subsequent plants you harvest are the same plant. Many plants are similar in appearance. * Testing plants can be dangerous. These steps should only be attempted in a dire emergency. * Before turning to unknown plants, look around to see if there is anything else you can eat such as coconuts, meat, fish or others things. If you cannot find another edible substance, be cautious about testing plants/berries. * NEVER eat anything that smells of peach or almond as although these plants only contain small amounts, all plants that are related contain cyanide.
Berlin - A few common plants can be poisonous to humans, especially small children. Carola Seidel is the deputy head of the poison control centre in Bonn, Germany and has much experience of dealing with the problem.