Friday, September 19, 2008

Taro - Toxic When Raw

I'm a Methodist, and I like to cook. Sometimes, I think that the two go hand in hand. As a Methodist, I've picked up some interesting recipes. Recently, and thanks to my church, I developed a variant to my standard Black Bean Soup recipe - Black Bean With Taro Leaf Soup.

Another congregation, which shares the church building with my church, grows taro plants on the lawn of the church. Their growing efforts have been truly inspiring - several dozen good sized plants, each with 2, 4, or 6 good sized leaves. We were told a couple months ago that we should feel free to cut the leaves from the plants, which encourages growth of more leaves and forces the roots to grow (which is the primary goal).

So, once or twice a week recently, I've taken my scissors into the taro patch, and cut 2 or 3 nice leaves to take home home with me. Black bean soup, with taro, is very tasty, and I've now developed a decent recipe.

Now my theory about cooking is that natural cooks always want to know what the food tastes like, and by extension, what each ingredient tastes like. By knowing this, you can sometimes come up with your own recipes, which in my opinion is when you really start being a cook, rather than just cooking.

Not all ingredients which you might use in your recipes should be sampled before cooking, and taro leaf is one of those ingredients. I found this out last night, and not the easy or enjoyable way. But I am still here, and able to write this, so I am thankful for the experience, and for being able to write this. And, I am thankful for the California Poison Control System Hotline, at 1-800-222-1222.

Anyway, to the gory details. I had just finished chopping the taro leaves - I make 1/2" chunks, which makes it possible to eat the beans, onions, taro, etc neatly, in a spoon. And the 1/2" chunks is probably why I get to tell this tale.

Curious about what taro tastes like, i took a piece, put it in my mouth, chewed, and swallowed. Tangy, not like lettuce, more like spinach. Online references put taro in the family with kale. The second piece, tasty too. The third piece, not at all tasty. My mouth felt like it was full of cotton, except for the burning sensation which made me think that I had gotten a chunk of jalapeno pepper on the leaf. I spit that out, into the sink, and got back to work.

I then realised that my mouth was a bit numb - not unpleasantly so, and my tongue seemed to be growing. Again, as if I'd just had a big mouthful of my Kick In The Seat Of Your Pants Chili, but without the flavour. I couldn't taste a thing. Even a couple handsful of taco chips, and several glasses of fizzy beverage, and my throat was still burning.

As I was later chatting by Instant Messenger, with my Aussie bud, Bob, I casually asked about raw taro leaf, and if he had ever tried it, and his immediate response was
No, Chuck, you shouldn't do that.
Upon my query
Why not?
Bob shortly came back with the article in WikiPedia: Taro.
In its raw form the plant is toxic due to the presence of calcium oxalate
That in itself was a bit scary.

But, it got worse, in the accompanying and linked article, Calcium oxalate, with the advice
Even a small dose of calcium oxalate is enough to cause intense sensations of burning in the mouth and throat, swelling, and choking. In larger doses, however, calcium oxalate causes severe digestive upset, breathing difficulties and — if enough is consumed — convulsions, coma and death.
Fortunately, I had consumed maybe 1 teaspoonful of taro leaf, a minor amount.

Bob next advised me to consider a visit to a hospital emergency room. Since the sensation of 1/2 hour ago was, finally, starting to dissipate, I declined that idea, but noting the additional mention in the latter article
Medication adminstered at the ER included Benadryl, Epinephrine, Pepcid
I decided that a visit to a late night pharmacy would be a good idea. Thanks to a clerk at my local Lucky's Supermarket, after I swallowed 2 Benadryl tabs, accompanied by a pint of iced tea (the first thing I grabbed at the checkout counter), when I got home I called California Poison Control System Hotline, at 1-800-222-1222.

Upon my describing my dosage as a teaspoon or so of taro leaf, the calm and professionally given advice was
Rinse your mouth with lots of ice water, which will relieve the burning and swelling, and go to bed.
with the further observation that my dosage was equivalent to having eaten
a raw chili pepper, and would have a similar effect.

Anyway, still full of adrenaline and caffeine, bed was not something which I was able to use until a couple hours later. But, I did survive the experience, as I'm able to post this in comfort. The sensations are, now, but a memory.

I do not, however, recommend that anybody attempt to verify my experience. I surely do not intend to repeat it.

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