At the height of the season for all the pumpkins, squash and other cucurbits that brighten up our autumn dishes, it is important to remember that not all "squash" are edible. Some inedible gourds can even cause food poisoning, which can sometimes be serious. Here are some explanations.
Ornamental gourds and hybrid garden squash should not be eaten
Some cucurbits are toxic and contain cucurbitacins, substances that are highly irritating and bitter. After ingestion, these can rapidly lead to digestive pain, nausea, vomiting and (sometimes bloody) diarrhoea, or even severe dehydration requiring hospitalisation. These substances, which are not destroyed by cooking, are naturally produced by wild cucurbits to repel predatory insects such as caterpillars.
This is the case with ornamental gourds such as colocynths, all of which are considered toxic, available commercially (sometimes in the fruit and vegetable section) for strictly decorative uses, and which should not be confused with edible squash.
This is also the case with certain edible squash grown in the garden vegetable patch, which become unfit for consumption as a result of wild hybridisations. This phenomenon occurs when inedible and edible varieties coexist in the same or in neighbouring vegetable patches, and the seeds are harvested and re-sown year after year. Beware! The inedible gourds that result from this hybridisation look exactly like edible squash, except that they have a bitter taste, unlike the edible varieties, which have a neutral or slightly sweet taste.
Tips to avoid poisoning
- Ornamental gourds such as colocynths are all toxic and should not be consumed. Check the label or get advice from the staff at the point of sale.
- Edible squash, purchased commercially or grown in garden vegetable patches: try a small piece of raw squash and if the taste is bitter, spit it out and throw it all away: it should not be eaten, even when cooked.
- Squash from garden vegetable patches: do not eat "wild" squash that have grown spontaneously. Do not collect seeds from previous harvests for re-sowing. Buy new seeds each time you want to sow them in the vegetable patch.
WARNING in the event of poisoning
For medical emergencies, dial 15 (in France) or 112.
In the event of poisoning: call a poison control centre, which will offer medical guidance, or see a doctor.
Poison control centre numbers: