Reading this humorous article by Michael Tortorello reminded me that it’s not safe to indiscriminately snack on the plants you’re growing on your balcony. Even plants that you think are edible may not be entirely so. For example the roots of carrots and parsnips are obviously edible (and easy to grow in containers), but as Michael learned, you should avoid the leaves. Carrot greens contain a chemical that is related to caffeine and cocaine. And the juice from parsnip greens, when exposed to sunlight, can cause blisters if it gets on your skin.
You know what else is poisonous? Rhubarb leaves. Small amounts are pretty harmless, but in large quantities they can cause kidney damage. Who knew? Also, don’t snack on cherry, apricot, peach, or plum tree leaves. That is unless you like the taste of cyanide.
Some plants have had their poison bred out of them, like potatoes. Only the tubers are safe though. Definitely don’t eat young green tubers, and under no circumstances should you eat the flowers, leaves, or sprouts. You guessed it, they’re poisonous.
Even the much beloved tomato has poisonous parts. The green parts cause digestive upset and can be fatal. Apparently they contain a compound called cyanogenic glycoside. It involves sugars binding to poisons and then releasing them later. You don’t need to understand chemistry (I sure don’t) to know that cyanogenic glycosides are bad news.
Hopefully my point is clear by now. Nature is the original assasin. It’s not Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick. It’s Joe Gardener on the balcony with the carrot leaves. If none of your cookbooks have a recipe for a particular part of a plant, it’s probably better to hold off on concocting your own until you can do a little research.