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Elderly woman, man poisoned with toxic plant at restaurant in Japanese city

Five leaves of wolfsbane, above, and two leaves of momijigasa, or Parasenecio delphiniifolius, are seen. (Photo courtesy of the Toyama municipal public health center)
The boiled herb that was determined as the cause of the food poisoning by the public health center is seen. Wolfsbane was apparently mixed in with edible momijigasa. (Photo courtesy of the Toyama municipal public health center)

TOYAMA -- An elderly man and woman were poisoned with the poisonous herb wolfsbane when it was mistakenly served at a restaurant in this central Japan city, the Toyama municipal public health center announced on May 12.

    The two, one in their 60s and one in their 70s, were hospitalized for symptoms including impaired consciousness, vomiting and diarrhea, but have already been discharged and are recovering, the public health center stated.

    According to the Toyama Prefectural Government's health division, there are no other cases of food poisoning from wolfsbane, also known as monkshood, in the prefecture in their records, which go back to 2013.

    The public health center explained that on May 10, the two ate boiled wild herbs picked and cooked by the restaurant's owner. Analysis of the leftovers and the uncooked wild herbs by the Botanic Gardens of Toyama revealed that the toxic wolfsbane had been mixed in with edible "momijigasa" herbs. The public health center determined that the restaurant owner had picked the wolfsbane by mistake, and suspended the business for two days on May 12 and 13.

    According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, wolfsbane contains the toxic substance aconitine, which can cause serious symptoms if ingested. As the leaves of wolfsbane seedlings and momijigasa look very similar from early spring to early summer, the health ministry has cautioned that there have been numerous food poisoning cases caused by mixing them up.

    An official at the Toyama municipal public health center said, "We want people to make sure that they harvest wild herbs with an experienced person with sufficient knowledge and do not pick, eat, sell or give the herbs to anyone else if they are unsure what they are."

    (Japanese original by Ikuko Aoyama, Toyama Bureau)

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