Yesterday was a hot and humid day and with access to a permaculture garden, I decided to ‘forage' for a hydrating vegetable like a cucumber.
I couldn’t find the cucumbers so I settled for a small marrow. I ate this whole and raw and I overlooked the most basic of rules that I heavily apply to wild food – observing, sensing and feeling as I eat.
It was in a cultivated edible garden, so what could go wrong? During the consumption of the marrow, I felt a strange mild reaction almost like a faint tingle or numbness on my lips and tongue after each bite. At the time I wanted hydration so kept eating as the taste wasn’t bad and neither was the flavour itself.
Shortly after finishing the whole marrow I began to have some strange digestive upsets. It was nothing major at first, a little gas and some bloating. I overlooked it as my body acclimatising to the digestion of a marrow. I had forgotten the fact that no matter the food source, if my body likes it it will not react adversely – and that included discomfort during digestion.
I went to sleep feeling not entirely settled but none the wiser. I woke up with a severe feeling of dehydration that I couldn’t quench with water and my gut was still making noises, bloated and producing gas. My sinuses were blocked by mucus and discomfort. I also experienced mild dizziness when standing, likely due to dehydration.
I immediately knew something I had eaten yesterday had caused this and the only addition to my diet had been the marrow. Marrow is related to cucumber and it is a delicious hydrating cultivated vegetable, how could this possibly cause a reaction?
With some research I uncovered that there are allergies to some vegetables that contain salicylates and marrow is one of these that can contain larger quantities of these chemicals.
Salicylates are present in many plants as means of defence and some plants contain more than others. In fact many of the fruits, vegetables and herbs contain varying levels of these chemicals and some forms found in willow and meadowsweet can be used as natural aspirin.
However the defining factor that prevents me eating too much of those particular wild sources is feedback. Try to nibble on a meadowsweet leaf and tell me if you can eat a huge handful of that in a salad?
Marrow on the other hand has been cultivated to be delicious and hydrating but it also has higher amounts of salicylates in its skin than other home grown produce.
Symptoms of salicylate allergy can include: headaches, migraines, dehydration due to increased urination fluid losses or vomiting, bloating and gas amongst other reactions that can vary in severity.
I experienced a number of symptoms that related to mild salicylate poisoning which surprised me at first, because aren’t cultivated plants supposed to be edible and good for us?
What we do not factor into the equation is that marrow has been cultivated to grow larger, more succulent and less bitter than it’s natural form. This is deceiving as it can disguise the amount of toxins stored in its skin.
Due to my negligence of the mild sensitivity and feedback as I ate the marrow, I suffered the consequences of ignoring the vegetable’s natural defences.
On the subject of natural defences, did you know that there is an illness called ‘Toxic Squash Syndrome'?
Further research suggested that it may not be salicylates causing the problems as I have been fine with other salicylate containing plants. In the wild, squashes can be highly toxic and very bitter due to natural defences in the form of cucurbitacins.
These toxic steroids have been largely bred out of domestic varieties however they can still contain small amounts of this toxin, and larger quantities if the plant has undergone environmental stresses during growth – much like common hogweed increases its phytotoxins when attacked.
There have been numerous records of toxic squash syndrome, and the symptoms expressed are also similar to what I experienced. In retrospect, perhaps the strange sensations whilst eating the marrow was a form of bitter that I had not yet encountered.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY:
Many of us possibly walk around daily with varying symptoms that we overlook and do not think to question the very things we put into our mouths as ‘food’. Whilst marrow is probably delicious in moderation without adverse reaction, I have learnt my lesson and I will pay just as much caution towards cultivated ‘edible' plants as I do towards wild food.