News Release

Wild garlic: Confusion often leads to poisoning

Eating poisonous doubles can have serious consequences.

Reports and Proceedings

BfR Federal Institute for Risk Assessment

Wild garlic belongs to the allium family and is one of the best-known native wild herbs. Harvested fresh in spring, many people use the plant in the kitchen for various dishes such as soups, sauces and salads. "Although the garlic-like smell is a typical characteristic of wild garlic, the plant is often confused with the poisonous lily of the valley or autumn crocus," says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). "Such confusions lead to cases of poisoning every season, some of which are fatal."

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum), also known as ransoms, grows in herb-rich, shady and nutrient-rich deciduous and mixed forests, riparian forests, parks and kitchen gardens. In spring, two juicy green, lanceolate leaves usually sprout from small bulbs and are used in the kitchen. The young leaves resemble those of the poisonous lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) also known as May bells and the very poisonous autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale). This often leads to confusion, as the many years of documentation in the poison centres of the federal states in Germany and at the BfR show. In particular, accidental consumption of the highly poisonous autumn crocus has led to severe or even fatal poisonings in the past. Consumption of lily of the valley can lead to diarrhoea and vomiting and, in rare severe cases, to cardiac arrhythmia. In cases of poisoning with leaves of the autumn crocus, the affected person suffers from severe gastrointestinal complaints after a latency period of 6-12 hours. This is followed by a phase of 1 to 3 days with few symptoms until multi-organ failure finally occurs.

Especially in the months of April and May, there is an increasing number of cases of poisoning in Germany, but also in Austria, Switzerland and Croatia, after collecting what is supposed to be wild garlic.

To distinguish wild garlic from its poisonous doppelgangers, it is usually sufficient to rub a green leaf between the fingers. If the typical garlicky smell of wild garlic does not appear, it is better to leave the herb and clean your hands thoroughly. However, the smell test has its pitfalls. If the smell of leek from a previous test still sticks to the hands, this can lead to a false result. Anyone who collects wild garlic should therefore be familiar with the plant and all its characteristics in order to be able to distinguish it reliably from poisonous plants. The BfR advises that if in doubt, it is better not to eat wild garlic that you have collected yourself.

In grocery stores, wild garlic is often part of the seasonal vegetable assortment and comes from controlled crops. It is also possible to buy plants or seeds in specialized shops and grow them yourself. In this way, consumers do not have to forego the pleasure and avoid the risk of poisoning.

If health complaints occur after a meal with supposedly used wild garlic, a poison centre should be consulted immediately or medical advice should be sought.

Directory of Poisons Centres:

Tips on the prevention of poisoning and advice on first aid are provided by the free BfR app "Poisoning accidents among children":

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). It advises the Federal Government and the federal states ("Laender") on questions of food, chemicals and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.

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