Any good gardener nibbles away contently while they toil amongst their crop. The problem: I’m not a good gardener, but I remain a nibbler.
So there I was, late at night on my patio, trimming dead branches, contemplating our relationship with food-bearing plants. Having read somewhere that common elephant ear plants (which go by the Latin name Colocasia esculenta) are cultivated for their tubers, I wondered whether I possessed a culinary gold mine right out back.
Perhaps as a polite gesture to our primordial cavemen roots, I took a wee taste of the elephant ear stalk. Somebody has to play the lab rat role. Honestly, it was just a nibble.
What becomes of a man’s mind as he stares down hard on a poisonous plant stalk, pondering its edibility, considering its toxicity?
Almost instantly I experienced a stinging sensation on my tongue. I realized then (or again?) how utterly dim-witted I can be. It turns out elephant ears are loaded with sharp needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals known as raphides. Evidently, the plant packs a bundle of these prickly projectiles in order to deter potential taste testers. Who knew?
Intuition, forever the faithful companion, played an important role in this poisonous plant feast. It begged and pleaded right up until Curiosity (read: a dumb guy’s guide to death) crashed the reasoning party.
“You know, it seems most tropical organisms are poisonous to an extent, and I’m positive this broad-leafed, long-stemmed houseplant of yours possesses its fair share of toxicity,” my old friend Intuition reckoned.
Boy oh boy, right again.
I attempted to hide the incident from my lady, who knows almost immediately when I’ve done something stupid. Perhaps, I thought, if I run upstairs and pretend to brush my teeth, she’ll never notice. I can suffer through the night in my own little world. Awesome plan! I always forget she possesses a built-in “Eric Has Done It Again” detector. She knew, and didn’t hesitate to call poison control after a serious round of chastising. And of course she called her mother, just so I could score a few extra points.
I’m not sure how Marcos over at poison control stifled bursts of laughter. Kids are typically repeat offenders of poisonous plant consumption, he remarked. Apparently the wee ones possess an innate inquisitiveness when it comes to experimenting in the inedible world. Adults typically know better. Funny.
Marcos assured me he’d call back within the hour. You know, in case I was dying and in need of immediate emergency care. Thanks, but I’d rather phone the medical crew over in Carlsbad, who just might have a faster response time. They could even pack the killer elephant ear to add green texture to my hospital room.
I suppose this particular mishap only adds to my co-worker’s mounting suspicion that as an avid outdoorsman I’ll eat just about anything, including pinecones and cattails (yeah Jean, they’re edible).
My mother’s response? “You know, it’s probably not worth me asking what the hell that kid was thinking. ‘Gee, it’s 11 p.m. and Conan is a rerun so I guess I’ll eat something poisonous.”’
Mom has been through this many times before. Even I was having flashbacks to my childhood. There was the time I doused a woodpile with gasoline in our garage. The hole I was stuck in after a dare from my loving sister. The beestings I suffered after I attacked their hive with a broom. The eraser I managed to jam in my ear (unlike Marcos, the doctor didn’t contain himself on this one). The list goes on.
It turns out I didn’t die, but instead learned a valuable lesson. From a culinary perspective, elephant ear stalks are disgusting.
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