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When making stew, stick with thyme, basil, oregano.... skip the jimsonweed

February 4, 2010 | 12:29 pm

StewWhen six members of a family show up at an emergency room with hallucinations, confusion and rapid heart rates -- as happened not too long ago in Maryland -- doctors know there's likely a common cause. But discovering that specific cause can be problematic when two of the patients are unconscious, and the other four are not exactly at the top of their mental game.

Here's the scene-setter: "All six shared a meal of homemade stew and bread at approximately 9:00 p.m. on July 8, 2008. No one else was at the home when the meal was eaten. Approximately 1 hour later, another relative arrived at the home and discovered the six affected family members laughing, confused, and complaining of hallucinations, dizziness, and thirst. One of the family members vomited. The unaffected relative called emergency medical services, and all six were transported to the hospital by ambulance."

Here's a full report of the incident, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Final diagnosis? 'Altered mental status secondary to food poisoning.' The cause? Jimsonweed, a plant with fairly well-known hallucinogenic properties. And the moral?  If your meal preparer is going to pluck yard plants for food, make sure he or she knows what those yard plants are. This one says he or she didn't.

Here's more on jimsonweed poisoning. Plus some images. You don't have to be a chef or herbalist to suspect this plant probably shouldn't be tossed in with the onions and potatoes.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Regardless of the type, stew is better without the jimsonweed. I feel confident saying this.

Credit: Los Angeles Times