The dark side of the daffodil

Not renowned as a culinary delight, daffodils have long been known to give humans an upset tummy. Marc Perry talks to an expert in the field of poisonous plants who tells us a few shaggy dog stories about people and their edible adventures, with daffodil bulbs…
Daffodils are budding up, just ready to burst open and cheer our lives with a spring splash of  yellow. All winter long they have been waiting for warmer, longer days to signal shooting from the bulb, buried in the soil. This simple little bulb is not all sweetness and light;  it has a more sinister side. We talked to the Poisonous Plant expert John Robertson from The Poison Garden about the pernicious side of the plant, and the strange things people do to end up, somehow, eating them…


English: A daffodil/narcissus bulb, after divi...
Daffodil bulb. Photo: via Wikipedia

The Breaker: John, have you ever come across people poisoning themselves with daffodils?

A. Oh Yes! I read up on daffodils for Alnwick Garden and started coming across stories that people were mistaking them for onions. And you sort of think, that can’t happen. People aren’t that s…

The Breaker. Silly?

John Robertson: When we were taking visitors around people started saying: “Yeah Ive done that!” or know somebody who did that, or “I did that when I was a kid.”

They cause a problem when people take them out of the ground and store them over  the summer and winter. That’s when they get confused with onions.

There is the story of some parents who weren’t very well and  were  staying in bed,  and the children just old enough to be told how to cook a stew. They went down to the garden shed to get some onions…and got daffodil bulbs instead.

The Breaker: And made their parents more sick ?

John Robertson: Yes. Somebody else told me that they were in too much of a hurry to turn the light on in the garage. And for some reason she had onions and daffodil bulbs in sacks side by side. She went to the wrong sack and took out daffodil bulbs instead of onions.For most people it’s a fairly short term tummy upset. They don’t end up going to the doctor or the hospital.[quote_right]I’ve never eaten a daffodil bulb so I’m not sure what they taste like![/quote_right]

The Breaker: I wonder how people don’t realise when they’re  cooking them that it’s  not an onion you? Or even the taste?

John Robertson: I’ve never eaten a daffodil bulb so I’m not sure what they taste like!  I imagine if you were having one raw it wouldn’t taste like onion.

The Breaker: How many cases would you say you have come across?

John Robertson: I must have heard  from a dozen or so over five or six years. It’s not that many, but in fact it is quite a lot in terms of plant poisoning…incidents of poisoning from plants are very very rare. Daffodils are one that stands out as actually causing harm.

I had someone contact me. Her story was that the family had been out and when they came home there was a carrier bag hanging on the door knob. With some onions in it. And it was from her mother in law…so she put together a quick shepherds pie…

The Breaker: (Laughter) I’m just laughing, sorry. I shouldn’t laugh ‘cos it poison, but it’s funny…

John Robertson: They were just about finished eating the meal, when the mother in law rang saying: “Make sure you get those daffodils in the ground!” They shot off to the hospital, who said just stay here and see what happens. They got a bit of diarrhoea but nothing too serious…

Daffodils, it turns out, have evolved this way. To stop little mammals digging them up and eating them. Over time the critters have learn’t not to eat daffodil bulbs because if they do they are certain to get a daffi-belly and not do it again. Shame that can not be said about us humans.

We might not be the sharpest tools in the garden shed after all…

Please do not try this at home. For help if you think you have eaten a bulb please contact NHS Direct.


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