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Wild garlic: deaths due to confusion (France)


The French Health Security Agency (Anses) and the poison control centers warn of poisoning linked to the consumption of colchicum, confused with wild garlic.

Between 2020 and 2022, 28 cases of confusion of colchicum and wild garlic or wild leek were recorded by the poison control centres. Two people died of it in France.

The intoxicated people had prepared the leaves in a pesto sauce for half of them and had eaten them in a salad, pan-fried or quiche for the other half.

The poisonings took place from March to May, with a peak in April, mainly in the Grand Est region and Auvergne Rhône Alpes, indicates ANSES.

The colchic (Colchicum autumnale) is most often confused with wild garlic (Allium ursinum), more rarely with wild leek (Allium polyanthum).»

These three plants grow in the spring in the same undergrowth. The flowers of colchicum, very different from those of bear’s garlic or wild leek, only appear in the fall, (…) which can make it easier to confuse the leaves of these three plants picked up in the spring before their bloom.»

Symptoms of poisoning

Among the poisoned people, half presented pronounced or prolonged symptoms (diarrhoea or persistent vomiting) and four people severe symptoms that could threaten the vital prognosis such as serious digestive, hepatic and hematological disorders. Two people died.»

The severity of the poisoning depends on the quantity of leaves ingested, the very variable concentration of colchicine present in the plant, and the association with certain common drugs (macrolide type antibiotics, antivitamin K, etc.) which can significantly increase toxic risk.»

How to distinguish wild garlic from colchicum?

Wild garlic is an edible wild plant, 15 to 40 cm high when mature, which has a characteristic smell of garlic, especially when its leaves are crushed. Its star-shaped flowers and elongated bulb are white. The leaves are more or less shiny, oval and pointed, carried by stems. This plant often grows in large carpets in the cool undergrowth, the bottoms of shaded and humid valleys or along the streams. The leaves appear in February-March and the flowers from April to early June. The harvest period ends with the first flowers.

Colchic leaves are stiffer, stemless, and the bulb is round and dark. The mauve flowers only appear in autumn, only the leaves are visible in spring; they are fleshy, blunt-tipped, and seem to come straight out of the ground. All parts of the plant are poisonous. »

Remember that lily of the valley leaves (Convallaria majalis), a very toxic plant, can also be mistaken for wild garlic.

If you pick wild garlic, ANSES recommends:

  • don’t improvise: make sure you know the plant well;
  • check for the presence of a garlic odor when crumpling each leaf ;
  • do not pick leaves by armfulsto avoid picking several species and mixing toxic species with edible species;
  • in case of doubt about the identification: do not consume;
  • stop eating immediately if a bitter or unpleasant taste occurs;
  • photograph your picking to facilitate identification in case of poisoning.

Through its toxicovigilance system, which gathers reports from poison control centres, ANSES has identified more than 250 cases of plant confusion per year since 2012.“, indicated the agency in 2020. “In total, 1,872 cases of food confusion with plants were recorded from 2012 to 2018. All age groups are affected, including children under six years old.»

Just as it can happen that colchicum leaves are in a wild garlic colony, poisonings can happen when toxic plants are found in a cultivated area:

For more information, see the links below.

Psychomedia with sources: Anses, Anses.
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