poetry and prose about place

poisonous Lathyrus – when ‘wild’ plants are not edible

with 6 comments

Yesterday, August 1, 2012, I posted a description of the Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus Willd.) and said the peas could be collected, boiled and eaten. This is the advice of the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants (1977).  My further reading, from more up to date sources, says you should not eat the seeds of Beach Pea or other species of wild pea.  Many Lathyrus species contain a neurotoxin that can lead to a condition called lathyrism, a type of paralysis.  Although there are other guides saying that Beach Pea is edible in small quantities, I have revised the post to remain on the safe side.

When we choose to include wild plants in our diets, it is very important to know for certain they will not be harmful.  In my posts, I have talked about avoiding berries that may look pretty to eat, but contain toxins (for example the bright blue berries of Clintonia (see my post for May 23, 2012, ‘Bluebead Lily’ ) or the tomato-like berries of the Common Nightshade (see my post for July 16, 2012, ‘growing and gathering – barriers to eating wild foods’ ).

I have also talked about cases in history of people who risk eating poisonous plants when hunger or famine strike.  An example is the making of Missen Bread in Scandinavia, using a long complicated process designed to remove the burning, poisonous crystals contained in the roots of the Wild Calla (see my post for  June 4, 2012, ‘keeping watch for dragons #6 – Water Dragon’ ).  Poisonous species of Lathyrus (for example Lathyrus sativus, the Grass Pea), in the same genus as the Beach Pea, have been used throughout history for food when people are desperate, in times of drought, famine or poverty.

So, please, take the following steps before you ingest any wild plant:

1.  check out as many sources as you can find, to discover the current wisdom and science about ingesting a plant

2.  be certain of your identification – many plants look very similar to one-another and can be confused

3.  think about your own sensitivities, since you may react to foods that do not bother other people.

4.  when in doubt, take the route of caution and safety and do not eat


©  Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

August 2, 2012 at 9:38 am

6 Responses

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  1. Very wise advice. I found some of the comments interesting too. I once spent a year naming the full moons based on my own experience, weather, what was in season, etc. It was a good way to get in touch with the seasons as well as the moon. 🙂



    August 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    • Hi Robin. You should tell us about them! A great idea for a writing theme!!! Jane


      jane tims

      August 6, 2012 at 8:10 pm

  2. Thank you for the correction! I wasn’t about to go searching for some berries to eat, but this revision is worth noting, as things can so often be misinterpreted, or passed down through the generations, like Merrill mentions. Excellent note of caution: “when in doubt…do not eat!”



    August 3, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    • Hi. New information emerges all the time, and using multiple, up to date sources, is also a sound idea. Thanks! Jane


      jane tims

      August 4, 2012 at 6:53 am

  3. Great post! It seems to be the weather for corrections. Today I’ve just been informed the “sturgeon moon” is not an American Indian name for the August moon. I’ve seen it in Almanacs for years… but someone sent me the link for the American Indian moon names and it was not on it at all. So much information seems to have been passed down for generations and a great deal of it is half understood truths. Your caution “when in doubt…do not eat!!!” is most wise. Many thanks, Jane.


    Merrill Gonzales

    August 2, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    • Hi Merrill. The First Nations people in our area include the Mi’qmak. Their word for the August moon is the Fruit and Berry Ripening Moon. In their language, one from the Algonquian group of languages, the word is Kisikwekewikús. I think the names for these moons are so interesting. You have inspired me to include the moom in a poem…. all about picking berries! Jane


      jane tims

      August 3, 2012 at 7:13 am

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