Spinach-eaters’ hallucinations caused by deadly weed in harvest

A PLANT that led almost 200 spinach-eaters to suffer delirium and hallucinations after finding its way into their shopping bags has been identified in Australia.

Thornapple, also known as jimsonweed, was accidentally harvested and packed alongside the baby spinach from producer Riviera Farms in New South Wales.

Within days at least 190 people across four states had reported symptoms including hallucinations, blurred vision and confusion potentially related to the consumption of the weed.

The incident has raised concerns about an increase in the amount of weeds affecting Australian crops after months of flooding and rain across the country. Flooding can move seeds into areas where species were not previously prevalent, and increased rainfall raises the likelihood of seeds germinating.

A spokesman for Riviera farms said the affected baby spinach products had been recalled and investigations had confirmed thornapple was the culprit that made consumers sick.

“The investigations have not identified any other potential chemical, herbicide or other types of contaminant,” the spokesman said in a statement. “As a precautionary measure, neighbouring crops of spinach are in the process of being destroyed.”

The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries website describes thornapple, whose scientific name is datura stramonium, as a “vigorous growing plant” which can poison people and animals. “The entire plant, particularly the seeds, is poisonous. It contains topane alkaloids, toxins that can cause serious illness or death.”

In recent months Australia has experienced flooding brought about by a third consecutive summer of La Nina, the climate phenomenon that brings heavy rain to countries including Australia and drought to regions in North and South America. – BLOOMBERG