Crippling stomach cramps, violent vomiting, dreadful diarrhoea, severe trembling, a frightful fever and terrifying hallucinogenic dreams are all symptoms reported by grow-your-own veg gardeners who are thought to have been poisoned in recent months by eating home-grown courgettes laden with harmful toxins.
On an online forum hosted by an Allotment Federation, over thirty gardeners have reported being violently ill in the past few months from eating home-grown courgettes.
These casualties include a gardener from Wetwang (in Yorkshire). Mike Andrews (64) reported that his home grown courgette looked great. He never imagined there was anything wrong with it. But within hours of swallowing just a single mouthful of his home-grown, cooked courgette, he was desperately ill. He said ‘I was shaking and sweating and having mad, hallucinogenic dreams. It knocked me out. It’s the worst illness that I’ve ever had and I lost 10 lb in just four days. After that experience I don’t think I will eat another courgette ever again.’
Another gardener reported to the forum, ‘I had to call an ambulance at 4am as my wife collapsed four times and was very ill.’
Further reports agreed, ‘This happened to my 87-year-old mother and she was violently ill. I had to call 999 in the middle of the night and a week later she’s still not back to normal.’ Others tell of accidentally poisoning dinner party guests by feeding them courgettes from the garden.
The Daily Mail On-Line has reported that in very rare cases, eating rogue courgettes can even be fatal. In 2014, a pensioner from Hildesheim in Germany died after eating a stew made with courgettes given to him by a neighbour from their allotment.
It’s not just courgettes that are the problem. Cucumbers, squash and pumpkins can all have the same effect –Toxic Squash Syndrome.
The Royal Horticultural Society says cases of poisoning are still rare but gardners can reduce the risks by not saving seeds from one year to the next and only buying brands that carry the RHS Award of Garden Merit. ‘Problems arise when the same bees pollinate both ornamental gourds and edible vegetables from the same family,’ say the RHS. With their bright yellow, green or orange skins, gourds are often used to perk up dull flowerbeds, or even add colour inside the home. But unlike their edible cousins, they retain high levels of toxins. ‘Insects have a flying range of roughly two miles, so if anyone is growing ornamental gourds within a two-mile radius of your courgettes, there’s a chance your vegetables could be cross-pollinated. This does not affect the current crop but means any seeds saved to plant on the following year could be poisonous.’
Cucurbitacins has been named as the chemical that causes these health problems if it occurs in abnormally high volumes in the popular vegetable.