Poisonous courgette warning
If you’re thinking of planting courgettes this spring, and I’m sure many of us are, then have a read of my cautionary tale – though don’t let it put you off, I think it’s quite a rare occurrence judging from the doctors’ reaction.
I had been baffled by several of my meals being ruined by an awful, bitter taste – so bitter that a tiny bit left an awful taste in my mouth for quite some time afterwards. I wondered if the oil was rancid, I wondered what ingredient could possibly taste so awful.
Then finally, the culprit was revealed – the last ingredient was grated courgettes, and the dish went from lovely to appallingly bitter.
Loathe to throw out a big pan of food, I tried to eat around the courgettes and pick out the broad beans, but I had to admit, it tasted bitter beyond anything I wanted to eat, and eventually gave up. My partner refused to touch it.
I woke up around 3am with stomach cramps, diarrhoea, the same bitter taste in my mouth, and a pounding heart. I was quite worried, and my partner said I should look at the research he had done on bitter courgettes – it turns out they can contain a poison called Cucurbitacin E, which can develop if the plant is hybridised and/or water-stressed. What the research did not reveal though was how serious this was and what the consequences were.
I rang NHS Direct and told her I had poisoned myself with a courgette; she quite clearly thought I was barking, and asked if it was mouldy. I gave up, and rang the out-of-hours doctor and told him my symptoms matched everything for Cucurbitacin E poisoning, and was I going to die from this? He said he’d never heard of it and I’d better go to A and E.
I waited in A and E for several hours, feeling terrible, and eventually saw a doctor who thankfully took me seriously and went to look up this poison. He said I should be fine but should get some tests run in a week or so. I felt pretty ropey for the next few days but the tests were fine and I’m still here to tell the tale. There is a story of someone who died from this poison, though.
Who would have though it of an innocent-looking, usually quite bland courgette?
Update July 2020
Do not eat bitter tasting courgettes!
Fothergills say there is an issue with one of their varieties.
However this does not account for all reports and the issue can occur in any variety especially if the plant becomes stressed.