In 2 Kings chapter 4, there is a story we just lived through ourselves:
“38 And Elisha came again to Gilgal when there was a famine in the land. And as the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, “Set on the large pot, and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.” 39 One of them went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and cut them up into the pot of stew, not knowing what they were. 40 And they poured out some for the men to eat. But while they were eating of the stew, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. 41 He said, “Then bring flour.” And he threw it into the pot and said, “Pour some out for the men, that they may eat.” And there was no harm in the pot.”
Yesterday I had big plans.
I was going to finish clearing and planting garden beds, string trim around my pumpkins down the hill, digs some new beds to plant yams… all kinds of wonderful things.
Instead, I ended up poisoned.
How, you may ask?
Luffas. I was poisoned by luffa gourds. And so was Rachel.
I showed off the luffa vines growing wild down the hill in a recent video on my YouTube channel:
When I was down there a few days ago harvesting cocoa, I snagged a couple of the young fruit to eat. Luffa are edible – and delicious when stir-fried – so long as you eat them young.
Or such has always been my experience.
On Saturday morning Rachel peeled and chopped them up with greens, corned beef and eggs to make a hash for breakfast.
Then we sat down to eat.
“Wow… this is bitter!” Rachel said. “Could the moringa be bitter?”
I tasted mine. It was excruciatingly bitter in flavor.
“I don’t know… I don’t think moringa ever gets bitter like this! Anything else in it?”
Rachel frowned. “A few other greens… I don’t know…”
I tried another bite. It was awful.
“Wait,” I said, “did you put the luffa in it?”
“Yes!” she said, “that must be it! But they were never bitter before!”
That’s true. We ate luffa back in Florida and it was delicious. Nothing like this.
I put hot sauce and ketchup on my portion and ate a few more bites. I’ve had bitter gourd before and figured this wouldn’t hurt us. I got about half-way through before giving up, but Rachel choked down her entire plate of food. We both hated to waste the eggs and corned beef, especially since I have to walk about 4 miles to go shopping.
This was a terrible mistake.
After breakfast we went outside and got to work on the garden. Rachel weeded and tilled up a bed and I took out a moringa tree which was growing in the wrong place.
By about 11AM I was feeling kind of weird and Rachel was ready to go inside.
Then as I tried to get a little work done at the computer, the pain hit. Wrenching stomach pain, and the bitterness of the morning’s breakfast was back in my mouth. I felt nauseous.
Breakfast was killing me.
About a half-hour after I got ill, Rachel started to get sick as well.
We rapidly deteriorated, taking alternate trips to the bathroom as everything in our systems was emptied violently from our bodies. I tried grinding and eating some charcoal but that didn’t seem to help.
I lay in bed and was wracked with chills despite the warm tropical breeze coming through the window. The older children were told to make their own lunch and dinner and share with the little ones, as Rachel and I could barely stand.
My head aching, stomach clenched, I searched the internet on my phone, looking for an answer. “Luffa poisoning” brought me to an article on poisons created by members of the cucurbit family, more specifically zucchini and cucumbers.
“Occasionally, a gardener will find a zucchini growing in their garden that is extremely bitter, as was the case in 2003 for one Dodge county, Nebraska gardener. Eating these vegetables caused severe stomach cramps and diarrhea that lasted several days. These symptoms were similar to 22 cases of human poisoning by bitter zucchini reported in Australia from 1981 to 1982, and in Alabama and California in 1984.”
Continuing to chase this rabbit hole downwards, I came to another article on the topic, this time a woman’s story that was way too similar to our own:
“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.”
Cucurbitacin Poisoning Nailed Us
That was it – curcurbitacin poisoning. Apparently, many of our cultivated vegetables from the broader cucumber family (which includes melons, squash and yes, luffa) have had the bitter toxins bred out of them.
Not so my jungle luffa.
And we were so stupid as to continue eating and trying to pick around the bits of luffa despite breakfast’s wretched flavor…
We paid for it. Though Rachel and I feel better today, we are by no means healthy again. Cucurbitacin poisoning is nasty stuff.
I always wondered about the story of Elisha and the toxic soup. The idea of there being a poisonous gourd struck me as odd, as I had never read anything about toxic members of the cucumber family. Maybe it was a mis-translation or something, I thought.
No, it was almost certainly cucurbitacin poisoning. Rachel and I had a mild case, compared to some that have occurred.
Curcurbitacin Poisoning Claims a Life
People have actually died from curcurbitacin poisoning:
“Ludwig A. died in hospital two weeks after eating a courgette stew tainted with poison, Bild reported on Wednesday.
The courgettes were home-grown, and had been given to the pensioner and his wife Inge by neighbours at their Heidelberg home.
But neither the couple nor their neighbours were aware of the dangerous toxins hidden within the plants.
“The stew did taste bitter,” Inge A. told Bild. “But we’re used to bitter. We grow radishes in our garden, which also have this bitter taste.”
But shortly after eating the meal, the couple began to feel unwell.
“I had diarrhea, and had to be sick,” 80-year-old Inge said.
For her husband, things were even worse. “His face had turned completely yellow,” Inge remembered.
The pair were rushed to hospital, where they were diagnosed with severe poisoning.
80-year-old Inge gradually recovered, and was released from hospital after a few days. However, her husband had ingested so much of the poison that he later died.”
Cucurbitacin Poisoning in India
Another horror story comes from India, this time related to bottle gourd juice:
“KL Dargar, a 60-year-old native of Mehasana did not have anybody to warn him when he drank a glass of fresh bottle gourd (doodhi) juice. Dargar, had no reason to suspect the innocent looking doodhi, for he had been drinking a glass of doodhi juice on an empty stomach every morning for the last twenty years. But this time the healthy drink almost got him killed for he ignored the fact that the doodhi juice tasted bitter when he drank it.
In fact, experts say one needs to stay away from bitter bottle gourd, cucumber, squash, pumpkin and melon. These vegetables, which are considered one of the healthiest, belong to the cucurbitaceae family.
Cucurbitacins are complex compounds found in plants belonging to cucumber family.
The tetracyclic triterpinpoid cucurbitacins compounds are responsible for its bitterness and are highly toxic. A 1.2 mg dose of these toxic compounds is capable of killing a mouse. It can cause humans to vomit blood.” The last time when I drank freshly extracted bottle gourd juice, it tasted quite bitter. Usually the juice has no taste,” said Dargar. “Within minutes, I had severe stomach ache, and I started vomiting blood,” he said. Dargar said that the bottle gourd used for extracting the juice was as innocuous as any other. Within minutes of consuming the bitter juice Darga felt sweaty, dizzy and collapsed. He was rushed to the Apollo hospital’s emergency department.
Dr Shravan Bohra, chief gastroenterologist, at Apollo Hospitals, Ahmedabad, said, “We treated Dargar for a case of bottle gourd poisoning. He was also treated for blood vomiting.” Bohra said that an endoscopy revealed that his stomach was found to be bleeding profusely. “Some swelling and bleeding was also noticed in the upper small intestine. The state of the stomach was such as one would get to see if a person consumed acid used for toilet cleaning,” he said.”
Once I finish this post, I’m going back to bed. Rachel is already laying down again, after getting up and making some coffee.
This is miserable stuff. I never mess around with plants I believe are potentially poisonous – and I’m very careful with my mushroom hunting and have a whole stack of books on the topic.
Yet I poisoned myself with luffa. Luffa!
And I didn’t even have a prophet to perform a miracle.
Get well, folks! And thank God your kids didn’t consume this stuff!
That’s scary! I’m so glad the kids didn’t eat any! Hope you & Rachel feel better soon.
Seriously. Me too. Nasty stuff!
Yikes! Get well soon, Rachel & David.
Take care, my friend. Good to hear you’re recovering.
[…] “There is Death in the Pot!” – THE SURVIVAL GARDENER http://www.thesurvivalgardener.com/there-is-death-in-the-pot-curcurbitacin-poisoning/ […]
Great story David! I feel for you buddy. Get well soon.
I’ve just had to clean up after a pooch that’s staying here has had violent explosions from her rear end for two days straight. At least in your case you discovered the cause. 🙂
Oh man -that’s awful . . . Especially being sick at the same time. I hope you feel better soon – I’ll have YouTube withdrawals if your down for too long.
Thank you. I was going to film a few videos on Saturday and the luffa got me instead. I’ll catch up this week. 🙂
Thanks for the heads up. Sorry you had to learn the the way you did, to share it. Glad you’re both still with us.
Thanks. It was… interesting. Now Rachel REALLY doesn’t want me to try the ackee fruit ripening outside. Heh.
Well, I’m not Jamaican but have many friends that are. And I had an ackee tree in my Redland yard for years. I am now growing one next to my mango and guavas here in Citrus county.
Anyway, the ackees dont actually kill you, they can however disrupt blood sugar levels if you are diabetic or immune impaired. I ate tons of ackee from my tree and never got sick. Just follow the rules- only eat the arils of naturally opened (split) pods – like those in your picture. they will open even after picking from the tree. Clean all bits of the pinkish “skin” that surrounds the seed . Eat the cleaned yellow arils in curry or with salt cod. Buttery, eggyish its good stuff. and if you are still worried, eat some protein alongside to keep sugar levels even.
Ouch. I heard about this sort of thing from a regional master gardener. Apparently domesticated curcubits can outcross with local wild types and produce toxic crossbreeds, which is why you shouldn’t seed save from curcubits that could have potentially outcrossed or harvest from volunteer plants in your compost pile. I give all curcubits a quick bitterness test before adding them to anything. Scary stuff.
Bitter Gourd is a wild vine with small gourds. Grows in Florida. It is poisonous. Same family but dont know if it can cross with loofa. Check it out on Deene Greene’s forum.
Its amazing isn’t it how much useful truth you can find hiding in overlooked stories in the Bible.
Seems the common thread is bitterness. I’ll remember that if I ever taste anything bitter – just leave it alone. The taste was the clue. Hope you feel 100% soon!
Glad you & Rachel are feeling some better. I’m also glad you didn’t try to make a video of the experience. I just posted this story to my Facebook gardening page. More people need to know.
I grew some edible luffas last season. Ate some young ones — they were delicious. Then ate a not-so-young one and had the same reaction you did. I only ate a little so I recovered quickly. They grow so fast that you need to check them every day. A small one is only small for a very short time. You turn around and it is already too big to eat.
Sounds pretty serious. You might try a visit to ER?
I tried growing looffa last year, and was disappointed with a single guord. Now I’m decided not to save seeds. Too many other things i can grow in my limited space.
Wow! What a miserable experience! Thanks for taking the time to share about the dangers with others. I hope you are both back to health very soon.
Thanks for sharing this experience. Will be careful about tasting vine foods before adding them to a pot. Either that or make sure I have Elisha with me. : )
Good plan. I often wish I had a prophet on call.
Wow, I never knew. Thanks for sharing and get well soon!!!
This is how you know you must marry that man!!!! I was dating a great guy and suggested that we get farm fresh veggies and grill together for a meal. The only ones left were zucchini. When we cooked them, I took a bite and they were bitter. I couldn’t eat any more, could barely swallow my small mouthful (I am a very sensitive bitter taster, but was trying to impress this guy.) I said they were just too bitter, but he said, I had picked out good ones and he would eat them. (Sweet man!) The problem was as he was driving me home, he had to stop every several mile to use a restroom. It took forever to get the 10 miles home and not much helped. Since then, I married him and we don’t eat bitter squash. (If I can’t handle the bitter, no one eats it, although a tiny bit of bitter on one end usually gets an okay.)
[…] luffa, which is a trickster, this plant is never […]
[…] Personally, I recommend the luffa – it’s quite good at violently clearing the digestive tract. […]
Just read this in my science news and it reminded me of your experience.
Poisoned by Bitter Squash, Two Women Lose Their Hair https://www.livescience.com/62158-toxic-squash-syndrome-hair-loss.html
I’m totally reposting that!
[…] A couple of people sent me the link to that article this last week, reminded of the experience I shared that Rachel and I suffered through last year. […]
I picked my very first Tindora today, off the vines that I started from seed well over a year ago. They suddenly turned red and yellow today so I decided it was time to take them in. Somewhere I read that they’re slightly sweet when ripe. Well, these were extremely bitter, and completely inedible. So now I don’t know what to do… Do I have bad vines? I certainly didn’t expect Tindora to taste like this. I remembered your experience with the Luffa. I don’t think Tindora is even a proper cucurbit, is it? I’m very disappointed.
They are good when green, but when they start to turn red, I think they’re terrible.
Send me some pictures if you get a chance.
Oh boy, I just ate several bites from an exceedingly bitter delicata squash, and am waiting to see if I get poisoned after reading about it. I took some homeopathic remedies and slippery elm gruel but didn’t have activated charcoal, so will just have to wait and see! I’ve also eaten bitter gourd so I can was puzzled what could make delicata squash taste so bitter.
I ate a tatume squash yesterday and got extremely sick afterwards and made me wonder if I might have been poisoned and found this article. I was sweating but extremely cold. And non stop vomiiting and diahrea right after I ate it and then all day.
I think even regular squash like the yellow squash that people grown commonly in home gardens can be poison. this article suggests it might be a random mutation that occurs going back to it’s ancestreal roots. They found only 1 plant like it out of 3000 in a california commerical operation in 1982.
Man, Bobby, that is awful. Was it bitter?
Thank you for the link.
I don’t think it was bitter but I did fry it in olive oil for a bit.
I was so sick for several days that I don’t even want to eat squash anymore if there is even a chance that was the cause.
so I think I’m going to grow some yams on the trellis where I just ripped up those squash.
Thanks for the inspiration!
Now I’m scared to eat cucumbers and zucchini. I had salad today with a few slices of cucumber. I didn’t noticed right away that they have a bitter or chemical taste. I ate few slices from the bottom part, i didn’t mix them in the salad and they kinda taste bitter so I spit them out. I’m worried cos I ate the cucumbers in the salad. How do I know if I get poison bad? I called poison control and the person I talked to have told me that I’m gonna be fine and cucumbers are not gonna poison me. I think it was the skin that has a bitter taste.
I wouldn’t worry much. A little won’t kill you.
Got the same issue currently. Home grown corgette. Painful. Guts exploding. Off again.
Hi, how did you treat the effects? My sister ate 3 small slices of this unusually bitter vegetable and vomitted them and having stomach cramps now. We hope you can enlighten us as we dont wanna go to the hospital for this.
It goes away in a day or so.
I hope she is okay!!!
I’ve been growing, eating both Si Gwa (Luffa acutangula) and Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia) for years. This year, the Luffa crop was enormous and I noticed towards the end of the season, when nights got cold (40s F), the Luffas got more bitter at smaller sizes. My wife and I had some, cooked with tomato, last night and it was only mildly bitter. No ill effects as of the next morning, but I’m going to use smaller, 1-1 1/2 inch diameter Luffas from now on. Environment seems to have an effect on cucurbits. Stress appears to trigger more curcurbitacin production. There also appears to be a threshold for toxicity; small amounts are not harmful. Food that is very bitter is a warning. Although, my father made some pretty bitter Italian spring salads which had late winter Dandelion leaves!
With Bitter Melon, young gourds are sliced, the seed/pulp cavity cut out, and they’re parboiled to remove most of the bitterness, before being stuffed with ground pork and Chinese seasonings. I’m growing a white-fruited variety which is less bitter.
Oh gosh. Thanks for the post.. I’m going through the same pain after eating luffa aka ridge gourd which was extremely bitter, bitter than a bitter gourd or an IPA beer. I still ended up eating, thinking to not waste the food because of nature’s mistake to make this small group of veggies bitter.. I am paying the price now.. was scared especially during covid-19 times thinking I may be exposed to the virus as diarrhea is one of the early symptoms. Will never ever make the mistake again.. taste it before stir frying.
I am very sorry. That’s exactly how I thought. “Not gonna waste it!”
Hi,i ate a small amount of bitter loofah as well,im so scared now, that i might be poisoned.can small amount affect me.
Thanks for the post. Couple months back my daughter had smoothie with bitter cucumber in it ..I did not taste the cucumber and added to the smoothie…(Normally I taste cucmbers and all kind of gourds from stem end before using it, but that day I did not) …she started vomiting after couple of hours and she was so sick…I tried to google to get some info but no info about what to do after bitter cucumber is consumed..so I called poison control and asked if I should take her to emergency…they told she shoud be fine after some time…and with COVID-19 going on it is best not to go to emergency… I wish this post came in my search that day….I am still worried about it …right now she is ok but I don’t know if there is any long term side effects from it
Oh boy, that is scary. It surprised us, too, when we got so ill. I am glad she is okay. I don’t think there are any long-term effects.
If something don’t taste right, throw it out. Don’t keep eating to find out! LoL. A lot of our foods actually come from poisonous ancestors.
I came here because i ate small amount of cooked bitter luffa now im suffering vomiting and diarrhoea im so worry im pregnant with 4 months