Man poisoned after eating 'potentially lethal' homegrown courgettes

An amateur gardener has reported having ‘the worst illness he’s ever had’ after accidentally poisoning himself from eating courgettes he grew in his garden.

Michael Andrews, 67, suffered sickness and diarrhoea after having just a bite of a courgette that he cultivated in his garden in Wetwang, East Yorkshire.

He explained: ‘I can’t describe what it was like, the taste was instantly horrific. I felt that Satan himself had done his business on my tongue. My mouth was on fire.’

Seed companies Unwins and Mr Fothergill’s have both recalled batches of courgette seeds after they were found to contain unusually high levels of cucurbitacans, the bitter-tasting compounds that can be poisonous to humans.

When this naturally-occurring compound is found at a high enough level it can lead to symptoms such as nausea and diarrhoea, resulting in a condition called by some as ‘toxic squash syndrome’.

Describing his illness, Michael, a music management company director, added: ‘I was desperately ill, shaking and sweating. I slept solidly for two days and two nights and I was having mad, hallucinogenic dreams. I lost 4.5kg.’

Although the courgette appeared to be normal, with Michael even taking a proud picture of his work before eating, he knew that all was not well as soon as he took his first bite.

Symptoms of toxic squash syndrome

Symptoms of toxic squash poisoning can include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Hair loss, in rare instances.


‘I told my wife to spit hers out, and thankfully she managed to. I only swallowed a very small piece.

‘Unfortunately, I’d already swallowed a small mouthful of mine. I thought it was perhaps the grill, the foil or the vegetable oil that had caused the foul taste. But then I went online and couldn’t believe the information I discovered.’

With lockdown having encouraged a growing trend of people trying their hand at cultivating their own vegetables, this is one of several recent cases of people reporting sickness as a result of eating home-grown courgettes.

Most infamously, a 79-year-old man in Heidelberg, Germany died two weeks after eating a courgette stew, made from homegrown vegetables, in 2015.

After feeling unwell and not being able to get rid of the sour taste in his mouth, Michael called NHS 111 for medical advice, and was told to keep an eye on his symptoms.

He was then unable to leave his bed for two days because of his sickness, and could only consume water and a banana.

He added: ‘I feel rubbish and have a constant, dull headache. It’s knocked me out. It’s the worst illness that I’ve ever had and really worrying that it isn’t an issue that has been highlighted further – people need to be aware of it.’

Guy Barter, chief horticulturalist of the Royal Horticultural Society, explained that results like these can occasionally occur when growing at home.

He told ‘It can happen with home saved garden seed or volunteer plants that have seeded themselves and if bitterness detected the fruits should be immediately discarded, and medical attention sought if required.

However, it is rare for rogue seed batches to cause illnesses, while the courgettes found in supermarkets are grown in a different manner, making them safe:

‘This is very, very rare in the commercial seed industry as seed raisers take precautions to avoid cross-pollination with gourds and other cucumber family plants that contain potentially harmful compounds.

‘Supermarket courgettes, squash etc are usually raised from hybrid seed with very little possibility for cross-pollination in the seed raising company, so commercial produce is very safe indeed.’

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