OOPS: Even Chefs Can Mix Up Poisonous Foods

Lamont explained that it takes eating one to three whole nutmegs to affect someone ? far less than the pour Swedes put in the cake.

However, novice chefs may need to pay more attention to names than to doses when it comes to food safety.

What's in a Common Name?

"Common names can sometimes be confusing," said Richard Jauron, the extension horticulturalist at Iowa State University in Ames. "When you get into these names, that makes me a little squeamish."

One plant may have several different common names. On the other hand, a single common name might be attributed to several different plants, Jauron said.

For example, the common name "pea" may cause trouble. There's the edible garden pea, but there's also the sweet pea. Gardeners often plant the sweet pea, or Lathyrus odoratus, for the great scent of its flower.

The decorative sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) has a pod similar to the edible pea, but is actually toxic. Marcus Harpur/GAP Photos/Getty Images

According to the Cornell University Poisonous Plants Database, the sweet pea is a known toxin to horses, rodents, turkeys, sheep and humans.

Even more toxic than the sweet pea, the grass pea has been known to cause serious damage. According to the Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System, eating grass pea (Lathyrus sativa) consistently for three months can cause neurolathyrism, a syndrome characterized by muscular rigidity, weakness and paralysis of the leg muscles.

"In severe cases, victims may be reduced to crawling," the Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System says. "Young men between 20 and 30 years old are primarily affected."

Most grass pea victims live in India, where the pea is grown for flour and often eaten safely by most of the population.

Unlike the decorative sweet pea, the pea pictured above would be safe to eat.

Other slight name mix-ups can include the edible cherry and the toxic Jerusalem cherry, mustard and the toxic Indian mustard. We eat sage, but the plant Lantana camara, known as red sage, or yellow sage, can be poisonous.

Scientific names may not sound sexy, but Jauron thinks they save people from the sort of trouble chef Thompson created.

While their common names may sound similar, henbane and fat hen are worlds apart in terms of toxicity.

"You want to know exactly what you're dealing with, so typically when we deal with plants, we would provide the common name and the scientific name," Jauron said. "No other plant would have another scientific name."

But being careful with plants doesn't end with the name. Even if the gardener has the name right, the part of the plant matters.

Parts Matter

Careful chopping -- many common fruits and vegetables in the grocery store have toxins lurking in the leaves, roots or seeds.

For example, take the humdrum potato. The entire potato plant, from the edible tuber to the top leaves, has toxic glycoalkaloids lurking in it, according to the Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System.

The tuber part of the potato is usually safe because it has far less toxin than the green parts. But toxins can concentrate in the tuber if it is exposed to sunlight and starts photosynthesis.

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