Why do some people pick their noses?

Picking with pitfalls

Wild garlic

by Sabine Schellerer, Munich

This spring, too, the desire for wild garlic drives countless people into nature, because the juicy leaves refine many dishes. However, the rediscovered leek plant has poisonous doppelgangers that a collector should know about.

Allium ursinum grows in Europe and North Asia. The plant from the Alliaceae family loves humus-rich deciduous and floodplain forests. In early spring, two lanceolate, lush green leaves sprout from the small onions, which promise a special culinary delight. At this point the white flowers in umbels are still missing. Wild garlic is closely related to chives and garlic. Like this, fresh wild garlic leaves contain a characteristic leek oil with sulfur compounds such as allicin, from which alkyl sulfides and alkyl polysulfides are formed when processed, as well as flavonoids and traces of prostaglandins A, B and C. According to folk medicine, wild garlic helps with dyspepsia and, as an arteriosclerosis agent, keeps the veins elastic and lowers high blood pressure.

Dangerous resemblance

Anyone looking for wild garlic in the forest should know exactly what they are collecting. Because sometimes malicious doppelgangers cheat their way under the spice. It becomes particularly dangerous if the layman accidentally plucks the leaves of the autumn crocus, which contains cytotoxic in all parts of the plant. Even an average lettuce serving provides a lethal amount of colchicine for an adult, the lethal dose of which is 20 to 30 mg. The spindle poison can withstand high temperatures, so that a soup meal can be fatal.

After accidental consumption, the throat begins to scratch and burn within the first twelve hours, followed by difficulty swallowing and shortness of breath. Vomiting and severe diarrhea, combined with a massive loss of fluids, threaten a shock. The mitosis inhibitor mainly suppresses the proliferation of intestinal, blood and bone marrow cells. Depending on the constitution and the amount eaten, an untreated patient dies after two to six days of circulatory failure or respiratory paralysis. “Basically, we medical professionals have nothing to counteract poisoning with colchicine; if left untreated, the mortality rate is 100 percent, ”said Dr. Maren Hermanns-Clausen opposite the PZ. According to the head of the Poisoning Information Center at the Freiburg University Hospital, older people in particular fall victim to the mix-ups, whose eyesight and smell are often reduced. Last year, according to preliminary information, 33 inquiries were made in Baden-Württemberg alone; two people died of colchicine poisoning.

Lilies of the valley are more harmless

If a collector consumes lily of the valley leaves instead of wild garlic, the situation is less dramatic. Poisoning here initially causes severe upper abdominal complaints, but only rarely cardiotoxic problems; No deaths are known.

There is also confusion with the spotted Aaron staff. Since the calcium oxalate raphides contained in the leaves acutely irritate the oral mucosa, it usually remains with a few bites. However, if you eat two leaves or more, you must expect further symptoms of poisoning - swelling of the oral mucosa as well as vomiting and diarrhea. The sap also causes reddening and blistering on the skin. The following applies here: spit out the parts of the plant and drink a lot, after skin contact, rinse the affected areas of skin intensively under running water.

"Anyone who is plagued by vomiting diarrhea after a supposed wild garlic meal should go to the nearest clinic immediately," warned the Freiburg expert. Only the autumn crocus leads acutely to death. But the symptoms say nothing about which herb has mixed with the kitchen spice. In the clinic, attempts will be made to largely prevent resorption by means of activated charcoal and to prevent enterohepatic circulation. In the event of poisoning with the autumn crocus, intensive medical measures such as saline infusions and analeptics against respiratory depression should alleviate the individual symptoms.

Collectors should know the coveted plant exactly and, if in doubt, leave it where it is. “The morphological differences between the individual leaves can often only be made out by the very experienced layperson,” warns the botanist Gerti Beck from Munich. The smell typical of wild garlic, which rises in the nose when rubbed between the fingers, can also be deceptive. It sticks to the hands for a long time and falsifies subsequent odor samples. The advice of the biologist: Buy the culinary herbs from the greengrocer. And if you like, you can grow the spicy wild vegetables on the windowsill or in the garden.

Keep fox tapeworm in mind

When a fox roams its territory, it can sometimes leave deadly traces. Because in it adult fox tapeworms (Echinococcus multilocularis) eke out their parasitic existence. The parasites are around four millimeters long and around 200 eggs regularly mature in the last of their five segments. Every two weeks the worm sheds its terminal limb and the entire brood ends up in the droppings, eventually on the forest floor and thus on everything that grows on it. In the small intestine of a hungry rodent, the tiny eggs eventually become larvae, which penetrate the liver and develop into fins there. After 40 days, the development cycle is almost complete with the formation of the head anlage. The immature worm only has to wait for a fox to attack its host.

In contrast to mice, humans are not a natural intermediate host for the fox tapeworm. Nonetheless, contact with the pest is dangerous for humans. Just like with rodents, the eggs of the parasite become fins in the liver, as well as in the lungs and brain, sometimes in long bones or vertebrae. Without the patient noticing, a conglomerate of tiny vesicles infiltrates the affected organ over a period of 10 to 15 years and displaces healthy tissue. After all, there is no rescue for more than 90 percent of those affected, as it is almost impossible to eliminate the worm. Surgical removal of the cyst is only possible in the early stages. Medicines such as mebendazole or albendazole inhibit the proliferation of the pest larvae and reduce mortality to around 20 percent, but must be taken for a lifetime.

"Compared to the number of worm eggs that a single fox distributes in its territory, the deadly zoonosis is extremely rare," says Dr. Katharina Alpers from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. Also, not everyone who picks up the worm will get alveolar echinococcosis. In 2004, the institute recorded 97 reported cases across Germany. Game keepers and forest workers are particularly at risk. If you like to roam the forest in search of berries or wild garlic leaves, you have to wash your find carefully before consuming it. Thorough cleaning of the fingers should also be a matter of course. Heat above 80 ° C kills the otherwise very resistant eggs. Because foxes are increasingly opening up settlement areas for humans, garden owners should also be careful when consuming self-grown plants in endemic areas. Veterinary offices or local hunters educate interested consumers about possible risks.


Table: Morphology of wild garlic and plants that are often confused with it.

  colour shape Nerve growth Wild garlic
Allium ursinum dull green; somewhat darker ovate-lanceolate on top; mostly 2 basal, stalked leaves parallel to moist humus-rich deciduous and riparian forests Autumn crocus
Colchicum autumnale dark green, shiny, somewhat fleshy, narrow, elongated-lanceolate; 12 to 20 cm long, basal, without a petiole; emerge from the ground in clusters (usually 3 leaves); younger leaves are encompassed by older ones, on the leaf base the fruit capsule appears parallel to moist humus-rich deciduous and riparian forests; fresh fat meadows lily of the valley
Convallaria majalis somewhat darker green than wild garlic, somewhat harder leaves, shiny elongated underneath, elliptical to lanceolate, pointed; 2 basal, stalked leaves, on the base around the stalk dry-skinned, sheathed lower leaves, the median nerve is more strongly developed on the underside about to the middle, closely parallel, dry deciduous forests Aaron's staff
Arum maculatum dark green, sometimes black-violet spotted, shiny arrow-shaped, basal, long stalked, leaf stalk triangular, leaf blade 10 to 20 cm long reticulate deciduous forests; Bushes


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