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Wild garlic: poisonous doppelgangers

04/2024, 21.03.2024

Confusing wild garlic with poisonous plants in nature can have fatal consequences

Wild garlic is a wild plant that has been increasingly used in the kitchen in recent years. The fresh leaves are suitable as an ingredient in herb quark, soups and sauces or in salads. The popularity of this aromatic plant is attracting more and more people to the forest who are trying to collect the flavourful allium plant themselves. For many, the wild garlic season begins when the spring days get sunnier and warmer in April and the plants give off their characteristic scent. "The garlicky odour is a typical distinguishing feature of wild garlic. Nevertheless, collectors often confuse the plant with poisonous lookalikes such as lily of the valley or autumn crocus," says BfR President Professor Andreas Hensel. Such mix-ups repeatedly lead to cases of poisoning, sometimes with fatal results.

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum), also known as ramson, grows in herb-rich, shady and nutrient-rich deciduous and mixed forests, parks and riparian forests. In early spring, two lush green, lancet-shaped leaves sprout from small bulbs, both of which are used in the kitchen. Fatally, the young leaves resemble those of the poisonous lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) and the very poisonous autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale). Many years of documentation by the poison centres (GIZ) and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) show that confusing these plants with wild garlic repeatedly leads to health impairments with sometimes serious consequences. In April and May in particular, there is an increase in cases of poisoning throughout Europe, especially in Austria, Switzerland and Croatia, but also in Germany.

The BfR therefore advises collectors to refrain from eating wild garlic if in doubt. To distinguish wild garlic from its poisonous doppelgangers, it is usually sufficient to rub a piece of leaf between your fingers. If this does not reveal the garlic odour typical of wild garlic, it is better to not consume the herb and to thoroughly wash your hands immediately. However, the odour test also has its pitfalls: if the smell of leeks from a previous sample still sticks to your hands, this can lead to a false result. Wild garlic collectors should therefore know the plant and all of its characteristics well in order to be able to distinguish it from lookalikes.

However, there is a way to avoid the risk of poisoning without having to give up wild garlic: More and more greengrocers are offering wild garlic from controlled cultivation. It is also possible to buy plants from specialised retailers and grow your own plants on your windowsill or in your garden.

The free BfR mobile app Vergiftungsunfälle bei Kindern“provides first aid measures for cases of poisoning and choking (german only):

Important tips and information on cases of poisoning and choking in infants and young children can be found in the BfR brochure „Risiko - Vergiftungsunfälle bei Kindern“ (german only):


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