» This Story:Read +|Watch +| Comments

Noxious Weed Sickens Six Who Ate Stew

Jimson weed, which can cause hallucinations and be fatal, is rarely found in suburban gardens.
Jimson weed, which can cause hallucinations and be fatal, is rarely found in suburban gardens. (By Sam Abell -- National Geographic Via Getty Images)
Discussion Policy
Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.
By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 2008

Six people hospitalized with nausea, dizziness and hallucinations after a family dinner in Gaithersburg on Wednesday were sickened by jimson, a potential deadly weed that was mistakenly used as a cooking ingredient, Montgomery County health authorities said.

This Story

Authorities believe that leaves from the plant were picked from a small herb garden in the yard and added to a potato stew by a cook. Six family members who ate the stew quickly became ill; six others who did not eat the dish were unaffected.

Initially, investigators suspected that mint leaves from the garden, possibly sprayed with pesticide, might have been the culprit. County public health investigators returned to the house with a botanist, who quickly zeroed in on another plant in the garden.

"He said, 'Wow, this is jimson; that's really poisonous,' " said Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery Department of Health and Human Services. The plant had recently been cut, and investigators found leaf parts in the kitchen trash. The department received tests yesterday that confirmed the plant's presence in the stew.

The belladonna alkaloids found in jimson can cause serious neurological effects and can be fatal in high doses. The plant, which has long been used, and misused, as a medicine and intoxicant, is readily found in farm fields, Anderson said. It is more unusual for the weed to crop up in a suburban garden.

Satnam Singh, who was at the family dinner but did not eat the stew, said it was common for the family to cook with garden herbs. "We've always done it, but we'll certainly be more careful now," Singh said.

The six who were stricken, ages 20 to 70, were in stable condition, a hospital spokeswoman said yesterday. The family members are expected home soon, Singh said.

» This Story:Read +|Watch +| Comments

More in the Maryland Section

Blog: Maryland Moment

Blog: Md. Politics

Washington Post staff writers provide breaking news coverage of your county and state government.



Use Neighborhoods to learn about Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia communities.

Md. Congressional Primary

Election Results

Obama and McCain swept the region on February 12.

Facebook Twitter RSS
© 2008 The Washington Post Company