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Toxic Vegetables: You Must Pay Attention To This When Breeding

The zucchini belongs to the families of cucurbits. With own breeding, certain warning signs should be considered.

Hamburg.   Vegetables from your own garden are usually especially healthy. A 79-year-old man in Heidenheim (Baden-Wuerttemberg) was doomed: He died of severe poisoning by a self-grown zucchini.

The pensioner had eaten a casserole with the vegetables, although the meal tasted very bitter. He ignored the botanical warning that plants use to signal that they are poisonous.



Zucchini, pumpkins, and cucumbers belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, Latin Cucurbitaceae. The name refers to a group of 20 bitter substances, the cucurbitacin. Among the individual substances, some are particularly poisonous, such as Amarin. “Bitter substances have the function of protecting plants from pests,” says Dr. Petra Schwarz, Director of the Agricultural Crop Museum at the Biozentrum Klein Flottbek (Loki Schmidt House). “The bitter taste indicates that the plant is poisonous.”

Cucurbitacin is extremely toxic and extremely bitter, says Schwarz – “I’m surprised that the man ate the zucchini at all.” In fact, the Heidenheimer pensioners reported that “it has tasted terribly bitter,” says Norbert Pfeufer, medical director of the central emergency room at Heidenheim Hospital. There, the 79-year-old was taken together with his wife two weeks ago with signs of gastrointestinal infection. The pensioner died on Sunday as a result of the severe poisoning, says Pfeufer. The woman ate only a small amount and survived.

As a member of the family, Cucurbitaceae Zucchini naturally contains bitter substances. But these have been bred out, says Petra Schwarz. “The common varieties are hybrid plants. If hobby gardeners gain seeds from them, then the genetic material splits into different genetic lines. So it can happen that in the offspring again bitter substances are present. “She warns against gaining seeds from the garden plants – the manufacturers of commercial seed would have to prove that it is pure.

Recommendation: Only controlled seed should be used

Also, Dr. Andreas Schaper, director of the Poison Information Center North at the University of Göttingen, recommends using generally controlled seed. In the nearly 20 years that the center exists, there have been 72 cases involving zucchini, says Schaper. The center serves as a poison center for the states of Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg and Bremen. “In 34 cases, those affected said that the zucchini had a bitter taste,” says Schaper. “Fortunately, we have not had a death by zucchini, just a moderate poisoning with vomiting diarrhea.” In addition, Schaper remembers another moderate poisoning by ornamental gourds. The affected patient had suffered from bloody bowel inflammation.



While the bitter substances have been bred out in cucumbers and gourds, they are still partially contained in ornamental gourds – if harvested for decoration purposes only, the poison content is insignificant. “As pumpkins, like zucchini, are fertilized by bees, they can be crossed with ornamental pumpkins. This is possibly among the plants because they belong to the same family, “says Petra Schwarz. “Even the offspring of such crossbreeds can contain bitter substances” – a second argument against the rearing with own seeds. In addition, it could lead to genetic spontaneous changes, says Schwarz.

External factors, such as hot temperatures during cultivation, transport or storage of courgettes, cucumbers, and pumpkins, can also cause bitter substances to form in the vegetables. This happens preferentially at the Fruchtansatz, so black. The outer, firm meat is less affected. Cucumbers should, therefore, be peeled from the top on which the flower was sitting. “I remember that my mother used to try cucumbers while she processed them. Some tasted bitter in the end, she had cut off the part generously. This has never happened to me with cucumbers from the trade. “

Cut off is the only correct measure because the Cucurbitacin is not to be destroyed by cooking.

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