Cherry Laurel: Toxic or harmless?

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The cherry laurel polarises the garden community like hardly a second wood. Many hobby gardeners even call him the Thuja of the new millennium. Like these, the cherry laurel is poisonous - but not so much that you have to worry about his health after eating some fruits.

Cherry Laurel Fruits: Toxic or not?

The dark red to black stone fruits of the cherry laurel look like berries and hang in grape-like fruit stands on the branches. They taste sweet with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Their appetizing appearance entices small children to have a snack. Luckily, the toxin concentration in the pulp is much lower than in the seeds and leaves - the information center against poisoning in Bonn states that when you eat up to three fruits usually no symptoms of intoxication occur. Curious: While the poison control center still considers the pulp to be poisonous, the fruits of the cherry laurel are often eaten as dried fruit in its home region, the Balkans, and are also processed into jam or jelly.

Highest concentration of poison in the kernels

The concentration of the poisonous prunasin is particularly high in the cores: if one has consumed ten or more shredded cherry laurel cores, fatal cardiac and respiratory arrest can occur. Typical symptoms of poisoning include nausea, vomiting, palpitations and cramps, and less often reddening of the face, headache and dizziness. The ingestion of whole kernels is not questionable, however, because they are nearly as hard as those of the related cherries. You can hardly bite them and they are therefore excreted undigested again. Even the leaves of the cherry laurel release large quantities of poison only if they are chewed very thoroughly.

Cherry laurel hedge

Although cherry laurel is poisonous in almost all of its plant parts - including the leaves - it is harmless than, for example, the yew

The poison of the cherry laurel

The toxin prunasin is a so-called cyanogenic glycoside, a sugar-like compound that releases hydrocyanic acid after enzymatic cleavage. In the intact parts of the plant this cleavage process does not take place because the required enzyme and the toxin itself are stored in different organs of the plant cells. Only when the cells are damaged do they come into contact and the release of hydrocyanic acid takes place. This is highly toxic to most animal organisms because it interferes with the chemical respiratory processes.
The defense mechanism against predators by hydrogen cyanide release is incidentally widespread in the plant world: So contain the stones and nuclei of almost all plant species of the genus Prunus cyanogenic glycosides such as prunasin or amygdalin - including the popular fruits such as cherry, plum, peach and apricot. Butterflies such as beans, broom and laburnum also defend themselves against predators with cyanogenic glycosides. For this reason, you should not eat beans raw in large quantities, for example, but must first neutralize the poison contained by cooking.

Bitter almonds release hydrocyanic acid

The almond (Prunus dulcis) is one of the few crops of the genus Prunus, in which the core is consumed. In the corresponding cultivars, the so-called sweet almonds, the concentration of this toxin is so low that the consumption of larger amounts causes at most slight digestive problems. Nevertheless, it can happen that one or the other almond tastes bitter - a sign of a higher amygdalin content. Bitter almonds, which are mainly grown to produce bitter almond oil, contain up to five percent amygdalin and are therefore extremely toxic in the raw state. However, heat treatment largely destroys the cyanogenic glycosides.

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