Poisonous Fruits

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Mikey P

Full Member
Nov 22, 2003
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Many toxins are bitter in taste (eg, alkaloids) and humans are far more sensitive (x10000s) to bitter tastes than to sweet or salt (there are some good dilution taste tests you can do to prove this). Ergo, we have evolved with a natural 'detector' for many common plant poisons. However, caffeine is also an alkaloid and we can gain a palate ('an appreciative taste') for coffee. It is noteworthy that whilst we are born with over 10000 taste buds, this reduces to approx 4000 in later life. Hence, our palate changes with age and also helps explain why most children often dislike sour and bitter flavours as they taste more 'extreme'. For example, children do not tend to like coffee or broccoli, and may not appreciate vinegars and other acid foods so much until they are older.

Xylaria, on another subject altogether, how many of the toxic fruits described in your original post are 'natural' to the UK and how many were introduced in, say, the last 2000 years?
 
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Mikey P

Full Member
Nov 22, 2003
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Cool! I only asked as I've just finished reading Tim Low's books 'New Nature' and 'Feral Future' which concentrate a lot on introduced species in Australia and I was blown away at how many there were. So, I was interested to see whether the UK has similar issues. I've heard of things like Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsalm but I guess there are a few more, some of which will be toxic.

Further, are there any introduced species that have proved useful from a bushcraft point of view? One for another thread I think or I'll get shouted at for hijacking this one.
 

Geoff Dann

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Sep 15, 2010
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Cool! I only asked as I've just finished reading Tim Low's books 'New Nature' and 'Feral Future' which concentrate a lot on introduced species in Australia and I was blown away at how many there were. So, I was interested to see whether the UK has similar issues. I've heard of things like Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsalm but I guess there are a few more, some of which will be toxic.

Australia's situation is absolutely unique, because of its status as an island continent which was seperated from the rest of the world for so long. This makes the australian ecosystem uniquely vulnerable to aggressive invasion by introduced alien species. Another way to put this is that the ecosystem of somewhere like the UK is a lot more resilient to this sort invasion, and therefore the only plants which manage to get themselves established are either very aggressive or able to survive in extremely hostile environments. Japanese knotweed is a perfect example, whose name in Japanese means "the iron one" because it can split concrete and is almost impossible to exterminate. Another good example is buddliea, whose natural home is bare Himalayan rock slopes. This plant can be found in the UK growing as a small tree out cracks in masonry, far away from any soil and surviving on rainwater it can suck in the brief period when the masonry is wet, and has colonised the entire railway network. But if you just go out into the countryside, almost everything you find will be native. Simply being toxic isn't enough for most of them to gain an advantage over the native wildlife.

Further, are there any introduced species that have proved useful from a bushcraft point of view? One for another thread I think or I'll get shouted at for hijacking this one.

There are no doubt a few. One is Lepidium draba or "Hoary Cress", which is an edible introduced species (a green vegetable, not a berry) that is currently spreading north-west from its original introduction site on the isle of Thanet (also sometimes called "Thanetweed").

Another good one is Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) which was deliberately introduced as a vegetable by the Romans and still grows wild all around the coast of the UK. There are a number of other herbs and vegetables that currently grow wild in the UK which were supposedly brought here by the Romans. However, given that the Romans did not come very far and that the climate has been warming (on average) since then, it is possible that some of these species would eventually have arrived on their own. None of these cause the sort of havoc created by Japanese knotweed or the many disastrous introductions of alien species into Australia.
 
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TurboGirl

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Sep 8, 2011
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www.king4wd.co.uk
Its a sad thing that many of the links are n/f but hey, its a 5yr old post and as valuable today as it was then!

When I studied herbalism, I read that blue clay can be ingested after a poison to offset its effects.... its not reliable but I guess if you know you're a long way from help, it could buy some time for medical intervention- I haven't found a good link to substantiate this (they're all cranky and I'm too tired to search more) but it was used historically.

I agree with the poster who asked for this thread to form the bones of an article- it's kinda essential reading!
 

xylaria

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Its a sad thing that many of the links are n/f but hey, its a 5yr old post and as valuable today as it was then!

When I studied herbalism, I read that blue clay can be ingested after a poison to offset its effects.... its not reliable but I guess if you know you're a long way from help, it could buy some time for medical intervention- I haven't found a good link to substantiate this (they're all cranky and I'm too tired to search more) but it was used historically.

I agree with the poster who asked for this thread to form the bones of an article- it's kinda essential reading!
I am still about even if the links aren't. Fullers earth is used by the british army to absorb toxins but it is used on the skin after NBC decontamination, I have on reliable authrority that some kitty litters are fullers earth. Kaolin is used internally. There isnt really a substitue for not eating the wrong stuff, if you are in a survival situation eat nettles and heather tea instead. I have bathed in streams that were rich in clay, and they had a lovely effect on the skin.

I will see about doing a rewrite.
 
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willpower

Member
Oct 4, 2010
27
0
Dorset
I wish I could find a definitive answer on cherry laurel, some sources on the internet say it's edible and only the stone is poisinous, others give it a blanket 'inedible' verdict.

Have also tasted and then spat it out and would agree with Xylaria, it's sweet and a lovely texture.

It does seem strange that, if it is edible, there is no tradition of eating it but that might be due to it being a relativly new introduction to the country.

Anybody fancy being the guniea pig??
 

winst0nsmith

Tenderfoot
Jan 8, 2012
81
0
South West Wales
On the antidotes note- activated charcoal is widely used to absorb poisions.

Alot of herbal sources mention white oak bark (Quercus Alba), milk of magnesia and black tea (yes, the normal brew) as across-the-board antidotes too.
 
Laburnham is toxic yes i believe all parts of the tree contain the alkaloid Cytisine.

I've tried Yew berries and was suprised to find them intensly sweet. While reading through the threads here it reminded me of what i've heard regarding Himalayan Balsam. We have a severe problem with it here and is now widespread all over mainland Britain. A highly invasive species, we spend a great many man hours removing this stuff from along the various water courses and damp partially shaded areas of the park which it prefers. Many people say it is edible and that the seeds have a lovely nutty taste.

Well i was a bit scepticle at first but i've tried eating this stuff, stems and leaves and i wasn't impressed. The plant is very watery and had an earthy taste, but when the seed pods emerged i tried a few and was pleasantly suprised. Infact i found a link to a Himalayan Balsam seed curry recipe.

http://www.eatweeds.co.uk/himalayan-balsam-seed-curry-recipe

In it's native indiginous country it is apparently eaten quite alot so this year i'm going to try this seed recipe out myself. I can't find any reference to it being poisnous in anyway, obviously it is edible, it's just a pitty livestock don't munch on it. I've seen stands of this stuff along field boundaries where cattle are and they don't seem to eat it. Our small flock of Jacob sheep avoid it but i believe pigs will happily munch on it.
 

wildranger

Need to contact Admin...
Oct 29, 2011
112
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Ireland
I have eaten quite a few cherry laurel berries in one go and come to no ill effects. According to the plant database they're edible even in large quantities, as long as the flesh isn't bitter.
 
C

caerbannog

Guest
Wow Xylaria, fascinating information, thank you :) I never knew that bunnies could eat belladonna, yet rhubarb is toxic to them.
 

Janne

Guest
Feb 10, 2016
12,368
2,279
Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
Belladonna juice used to be dropped into the eyes by young ladies. The pupils dilated, and the young lady looked sexier to guys. (Physically the pupild dilate when you get sexually aroused)
Hence the name, means " beautiful girl" in Italian.

Elder berries are hardly toxic, even if a large amout if the juice is consumed. Old style Swedish food, source of Vit C during winter
Maybe the seeds are ?
The Elder flowers are delicious dipped in crepe batter and fried. Traditional Central European delicacy in late spring!
 

Tengu

Full Member
Jan 10, 2006
11,490
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Wiltshire
Pontac sauce is made from Elderberries, and so, of course, is elderberry wine.

No idea if they are harmless raw.

I, too, have tried yew berries, ghastly sticky sickly sweet things.
 

Herbalist1

Settler
Jun 24, 2011
586
1
North Yorks
Its a sad thing that many of the links are n/f but hey, its a 5yr old post and as valuable today as it was then!

When I studied herbalism, I read that blue clay can be ingested after a poison to offset its effects.... its not reliable but I guess if you know you're a long way from help, it could buy some time for medical intervention- I haven't found a good link to substantiate this (they're all cranky and I'm too tired to search more) but it was used historically.

I agree with the poster who asked for this thread to form the bones of an article- it's kinda essential reading!

In a survival situation - ie medical assistance was not readily available - then I would induce vomiting (note - don't induce vomiting if the poisoning agent is caustic or the person is not fully conscious as there is a risk of vomit being aspirated). Then if you've had a camp fire, bash up some of the charcoal (not ashes) in water and drink it. The charcoal will absorb toxins that are still present in the digestive tract. This is also useful in cases of food poisoning. But you'd still want to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Clay will work in a similar way but you're not going to have time to find some, dig it up, process it - you'd be better using the time getting to where medical help was available.
 

Herbalist1

Settler
Jun 24, 2011
586
1
North Yorks
Belladonna juice used to be dropped into the eyes by young ladies. The pupils dilated, and the young lady looked sexier to guys. (Physically the pupild dilate when you get sexually aroused)
Hence the name, means " beautiful girl" in Italian.

Elder berries are hardly toxic, even if a large amout if the juice is consumed. Old style Swedish food, source of Vit C during winter
Maybe the seeds are ?
The Elder flowers are delicious dipped in crepe batter and fried. Traditional Central European delicacy in late spring!
Elderberries cooked are safe - and very nice in a pie - though they are very variable. Some taste great some are horrible. It varies from tree to tree so it's useful to try them from different trees in your area and note which are best.
i wouldn't eat uncooked elderberries - they are purgative - unless you fancy spending a good amount of time in the smallest room! Don't know if the uncooked juice is ok (ie after removing the seeds, skins etc), as I've never tried it.
 

Toddy

Mod
Mod
Jan 21, 2005
36,707
2,623
S. Lanarkshire
I agree that every Elder produces different tasting berries. I know that some people tolerate the uncooked ones just fine, while others can be rather ill with them. It is apparantly something to do with the age they were introduced into the diet. Earlier the better I'm told, but then, I've (and none of my family) never been ill with them. Not sure how best to advise folks on them tbh.
I like them, both raw and cooked, but then, I eat fresh rowans too…..and yet I really like yew arials :D and I don't have much of a sweet tooth. Eat them really cold is the best advice I can offer to those who react like Tengu did.

I'm wondering if the children who are fed the fresh elderflower cordial and battered flower fritters somehow learn to digest the berries more easily too ?
I know that my infant sons had fresh elderflower cordial every year, and the fritters and pancakes once they were eating solid foods.

M
 

Herbalist1

Settler
Jun 24, 2011
586
1
North Yorks
That's interesting Mary. Not heard about the age you were introduced to them making a difference but it makes sense - just like children who are introduced to peanuts at an early age are much less likely to develop nut allergies.
I imagine part of the problem is also due to the variability present in elderberries.
I've always advised people to stick to cooked elderberries as I've known some people to react very badly to raw elderberries. Maybe the best advice would be to try a small amount at home and see how you get on with them. Probably not one to try for the first time when you're in the wilds and miles from a bathroom though!
 
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