Recently, someone posted on Foragers Unite (1) that they had eaten Skunk Cabbage; and I thought, ‘Ewe, for real?’ Then, laughed at myself, thinking, if only I had a nickel for every time someone has said to me, “Ewe, you are NOT going to eat THAT, are you?” But, stinky, Skunk Cabbage, really, you eat that? I knew that the roots have medicinal value, but, are also potentially toxic. So, for me, Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, has already been filed under the unavoidables. And, the only habitat I’ve ever seen them growing in, is scary, swampy wetness. I’m a firm believer in the “better to be safe than sorry” rule; and avoid possibly hazardous situations, especially when out alone.
Never-the-less, inquiring minds need to know; so I went cyber sailing; to find:
“In the 19th century the U.S. Pharmacopoeia listed Eastern Skunk Cabbage as the drug “dracontium“. It was used in the treatment of respiratory diseases, nervous disorders, rheumatism, and dropsy. It is not considered edible raw, because the roots are toxic and the leaves can burn the mouth.” (2)
And, indeed, some folks do eat Skunk Cabbage! “In North America and Europe, skunk cabbage is occasionally cultivated in water gardens. Skunk cabbage was used extensively as a medicinal plant, seasoning, and magical talisman by various tribes of Native Americans. While not considered edible raw, because the roots are toxic and the leaves can burn the mouth, the leaves may be dried and used in soups and stews” (3)
However, after reading Steve Brill’s review, I will pass, “Marginally edible at best, skunk cabbage contains calcium oxalate crystals, which cause the most unpleasant burning sensation of the mouth and tongue. Boiling does not dispel this quality,” (4),
and this on calcium oxalate, convinces me:
“Calcium oxalate, a major constituent of human kidney stones, is a poisonous substance that can produce sores and numbing on ingestion and could even be fatal. It is also found in rhubarb (in large quantities in the leaves) and in species of Oxalis, Araceae, taro, kiwifruit, tea leaves, agaves, and Alocasia and in spinach in varying amounts. Insoluble calcium oxalate crystals are found in plant stems, roots, and leaves. Kidney stone sufferers should not eat plants high in oxalates. Even a small dose of calcium oxalate is enough to cause intense sensations of burning in the mouth and throat, swelling, and choking that could last for up to two weeks. In greater doses it can cause severe digestive upset, breathing difficulties, coma or even death. Recovery from severe oxalate poisoning is possible, but permanent liver and kidney damage may have occurred.” (5)
So, really, I’ll pass!
Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, is a low growing, nasty smelling, intriguing, flowering, perennial plant, that is one of the first plants to emerge, often through ice; due to its ability to generate temperatures of 10-15° above air temperature; placing it in a small group of plants exhibiting thermogenesis.
The mottled, lime-green and red-maroon, hooded, bract flower-canopy appears before the leaves, and is called a spathe, which surrounds the actual flower cluster, knob structure, called a spadix.
Although, not poisonous to the touch, breaking or tearing a leaf produces a skunk-ass, but not harmful, stench. So, I will enjoy Skunk Cabbage from the solid edge of the swamp, through my zoom lens, thank you very much.
Thanx for stopping by. See you next time.
(1) Foragers Unite! https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/184173308292665/