Pumpkin: Bitter substances lead to poisoning

Harvest Season: Late summer and fall are the perfect time to harvest pumpkins, zucchini, and cucumbers. But be careful, especially with home-grown vegetables, because dangerous bitter substances in cucurbits can cause severe poisoning.

Homegrown pumpkin seeds such as squashes, courgettes and  cucumbers  are becoming a hazard. Pollen from bitter gourds can be transferred to the plants by insects, which can lead to uncontrolled backcrossing of the seeds of this plant – with dangerous consequences.

Bitter Gourd: Cucurbitacins Responsible for Health Consequences

Pumpkin plants grown with this seed may contain toxic bitter substances (cucurbitacins). In addition to backcrossing, periods of severe heat sometimes also affect the pumpkin plant. Because if the plant is exposed to particular stress due to severe drought, it can fall back into its old pattern and reactivate the bitter substances.

Consuming the bitter substances can have health consequences:

If these symptoms occur immediately after the meal, urgent medical advice should be sought: In the worst case, the toxins can also have fatal consequences.

Bitter substances in pumpkins: tips and signals

Hobby gardeners can continue to grow the cucurbits with pleasure – but they should heed these tips and signals:

  • Avoid backcrossing:  edible and ornamental pumpkins should not grow too close together in your own garden. In this way, dangerous backcrossing can be avoided.
  • Buy seeds in hardware stores or supermarkets:  To avoid using backcrossed seeds, fresh seeds should be bought and planted annually. It is advisable not to use seeds from the fruit you have grown yourself.
  • Taste it briefly:  A simple taste test with raw vegetables helps to identify a bitter taste. Spices, oil or other ingredients can easily mask the bitter substances. Bitter substances are also retained during cooking and roasting.
  • Take the warning signals seriously:  No matter how tasty and appetizing the pumpkin plants may appear, the alarm bells should ring if they taste slightly bitter. People who do not perceive bitter substances or only slightly perceive them should ask others to try a bite of  pumpkin , zucchini or cucumber or, if in doubt, refrain from eating them.

If the pumpkin is not consumed because of its bitter substances, it can serve as a decoration or be converted into a Halloween pumpkin.

According to the Stiftung Warentest, supermarket vegetables are not affected, and all cases of poisoning reported so far can be traced back to plants from the home garden.


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