Here’s the deal: please never, ever, ever, ever eat raw taro leaf.
I’m not sure where you live or if you even know what taro leaf is, but for the love of ALL the baby goats, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT eat raw taro leaf.
Taro grows like mad in tropical climates. It’s everywhere here in Hawaii. It has large green leaves (also called “luau leaf”) and the root is starchy like a potato. Both the taro leaves and taro root are commonly eaten throughout the islands. But they must, must, must be cooked properly first. Allow me to explain the fuckery.
Last week I was at my local health food store and I bought a big bag of taro leaves. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, but the cute hippie chick who was in the produce aisle told me they were her favorite green and she just steams them and adds some salt and pepper. Easy peasy and delish. I was sold.
I tried the leaves that very night. I steamed a few of them in a steamer basket for about 15 minutes and then I made a badass bean and rice burrito using the steamed leaves as a wrap. It was solid. The next night, Luanne simmered some chopped up taro leaves in her instant noodles (yup, my woman loves instant noodles). She thought they were bomb diggity.
Then Saturday morning rolls around. Oh, Saturday, how I love thee. I threw on some Diana Krall, made a hot cup of brewing cacao, and then I sat on my deck and didn’t do a damn thing. It was perfect. When I got hungry about an hour later, I went to the kitchen to make a smoothie. This is where the narrative takes a turn straight into shit town.
I was running low on my regular smoothie greens (kale, collards, bok choy, chard and spinach) so I grabbed the bag of taro leaves and I added 3 big leaves to my blender, along with the other smoothie ingredients (water, soy milk, banana, frozen berries, ginger, turmeric and ground flax seeds). I poured a smoothie for myself and one for Luanne.
This would have been fine and dandy except for the small fact that RAW TARO LEAVES ARE POISONOUS AS FUCK.
After the first drink of smoothie, we both noticed a spicy taste. We shrugged it off because it reminded us of how arugula tastes in smoothies – not a favorite, but it gets the job done. After we had two more big drinks, it hit us. Something was very, very wrong.
My throat started to feel super hot. It was as if I had swallowed a bee and it stung me, mid swallow. Or maybe like I had swallowed a cigarette butt that was still lit. Either way, this hot, stinging sensation traveled up my jaw, all the way to my ears. I started coughing. At this point, I heard Luanne coughing as well. I shouted to her, “Put the smoothie down. Do not drink anymore!!” and I quickly went to my computer and Googled “raw taro leaves,” at which point the words “toxic,” “poisonous” and “2 cases of death” popped up on my screen.
Shit. Please don’t tell me that Luanne and I are going to die from eating a fucking plant. The irony would be way too rich.
I ran into Luanne’s office, took her smoothie away from her and dumped both our smoothies into the compost. Within minutes, the heartburn-like symptoms started. It felt like my chest was on fire from the inside. My heart raced. Luanne moved to the couch and laid down. I grabbed my phone and called poison control. I waited for 10 minutes for someone to pick up. As I was waiting on the phone, Luanne ran to the bathroom and forced herself to throw up to get the toxins out of her. An understandable move, but one that she would later regret.
Finally, a nice RN answered the poison hotline and she told me that raw taro leaves are extremely poisonous and they need to be cooked for a full 45 minutes to successfully remove all the toxins. Helpful news. Too bad I did not know this PRIOR to blending the shit out of the leaves, making the toxins even more bioavailable, and then drinking it down.
She told me that this was going to be painful but there was no need to go to the E R, unless our throats started to close up and we could no longer swallow. If we could breathe and swallow, then we were good to go and we would just have to wait it out because there is nothing that can be done about taro leaf poisoning.
She also firmly advised against throwing up if we could help it because the toxins that are on raw taro leaves are like tiny little razor blades. So if it hurt going down (which, CHECK, it did), then it would hurt just as bad coming up – but it would be even worse because it’s double the razor-like action (my words, not hers). Too late for Luanne, but now I knew that the exit strategy was through my ass, not my mouth.
By the time I got off the phone with poison control, I was pretty sure we weren’t going to die, but I did have a new symptom. My stomach felt like someone very large was punching it over and over again. I could barely walk and when I did, I was definitely walking like a hunched over 95-year-old man. We didn’t have diarrhea per se, but we had severe stomach cramps, tricking us into thinking diarrhea wasn’t far behind.
At this point in the story, Luanne was horizontal on the couch, I was hunched over in the armchair, and Sweet Pea was on the floor staring at us, wondering what the fuck went wrong with our happy Saturday morning.
That’s when we were hit with the next wave: sheer exhaustion and lethargy. We couldn’t get up. All we could do was be still and endure the burning, stinging throat, the hot esophagus, the severe chest burn, and the violent stomach cramps. Luanne stayed on the couch and I slowly shuffled to the guest bedroom. We both slept.
I got up two hours later. It was noon and I felt super hungover. My head pounded, my throat felt raw, my stomach was in knots, I was tired as fuck and everything ached. In all of my poisoned misery, however, I did manage to find some gratitude.
It has been over three years since I’ve had a hangover and going through this experience reminded me just how grateful I am to be done with that self-inflicted bullshit. Yes, this taro leaf douchery was technically self inflicted, but had I known that raw taro leaves would make me feel like an infected wart on the inside of a flaming hot asshole, I would NOT have partaken of this particular ingredient.
I moved to the couch with Luanne and we both moaned and groaned and felt sorry for each other and for ourselves. We stayed there for another hour, until I mustered up enough strength to make some simple miso soup because we needed something in our tummies. We sipped soup. We slept. We watched Shameless. This was on repeat for the rest of the day, until we went to bed at 8:30pm.
I woke up at 2:30am on Sunday morning with painful stomach cramps. I was tossing and turning in bed so I moved out to the couch. I farted really damn loud two times in a row and then I laughed and went back to sleep. I woke up again at 6:45am. Have you ever had a bad hangover and then the next day you were hungover from your hangover? That’s how we both felt on Sunday. We slept on and off all day. I ate some toast and drank some tea. We bitched to each other about how bad we felt. We slept some more. It was not a good day and we were asleep by 9pm. I did call the health food store where I bought the taro leaves and asked them to please put up a warning sign about eating them raw. They seemed receptive.
I woke up early Monday morning at 1:30am, again with intense stomach cramps. I moved to the couch and again, I farted SUPER loud (only once this time) and then I cracked up and went back to sleep. I woke up again at 6:30am. We both felt super lethargic and our stomach cramps were on high, but still no diarrhea. I worked from 7am to noon and then I slept for a few hours. We managed to go to the grocery store to get some activated charcoal in the hopes that it would help draw out some of the toxins that were making us sick.
At one point during our journey to the store, I couldn’t decipher whether I was super hungry, if I needed to shit, if I needed to lay down, if I needed to throw up, or if I was about to pass out. I felt like it was a yes to any and all of these scenarios. It was very confusing.
We managed to get the charcoal and while we were at the health food store, we did a spot check to make sure they put up a warning sign next to the taro leaves. You can see here that they did, so if you’re ever at Island Naturals in Hilo and you see this sign, you now know why.
I don’t know if the activated charcoal helped or not because on Tuesday we were still exhausted and had various lingering symptoms, especially tummy cramps and heartburn. By Wednesday, we still felt weird but we felt like there was hope that this was coming to an end.
It’s Thursday morning as I write this and I woke up with more energy than yesterday but my stomach still feels like it’s being punched. This time by a toddler, not a sumo wrestler, so hooray for that! Now, I didn’t write this poisonous tale for sympathy, oh no, no, no. We are going to be just fine and we don’t need anyone feeling bad for us. I wrote this as a public service announcement.
I can’t believe that something so potentially poisonous is sold so casually at a grocery store. As we talked to people in our private Facebook group about this, we heard from a lot of people who have lived in Hawaii for a long time who had no idea that eating taro leaves raw was so harmful.
On the flip side, we talked to one of our native Hawaiian friends and she lost her shit when she heard that we blended up and ingested raw taro leaves. She said that she won’t even buy the cooked leaves from most places. She has a couple go-to places she will buy from because these are the only people she trusts to cook them properly. So while this is common knowledge to some, other people are totally in the dark about it. I sincerely wish that I would have known about this before it was too late!
(above: taro growing in downtown Hilo. It literally grows everywhere.)
I’m not giving you a recipe today because, honestly, after reading this, I didn’t think you would be hungry, am I right?!
Have you ever eaten anything poisonous?
Tell us about it in the comments and maybe someone will be spared.
Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with learning from other people’s mistakes.