Italy recalls frozen spinach feared to contain hallucinogenic mandrake

Italy recalls frozen spinach feared to contain hallucinogenic mandrake
Mandrake growing in Sicily. Photo: tato grasso/Wikimedia Commons
Italy’s Health Ministry has ordered the recall of a batch of frozen spinach after several people who ate it suffered signs of mandrake poisoning.

A family of four in Milan sought emergency treatment for “mental confusion and amnesia” on September 30th, reported Italian news agency Ansa, after each of them had eaten frozen spinach produced by French company Bonduelle.

Their symptoms were found to be consistent with ingesting mandrake, a poisonous plant with hallucinogenic properties. Native to the Mediterranean region, it can potentially sprout up amongst food crops – which is how, it is feared, its leaves may have made their way into packs of spinach. 

The scare prompted the Italian Health Ministry to issue a nationwide recall for the batch in question, lot 15986504-7222 45M63 of Bonduelle’s 750g packs of Spinaci Millefoglie, with the expiration date 8/2019. 

While stressing that none of its products had been confirmed to be contaminated, Bonduelle said it would recall four other batches of frozen spinach as a precaution. 

They will be taken off sale in supermarkets and removed from future distribution, the company said. Any consumers who have already bought one of the packs are advised not to eat them.

Folio 90 from the Naples Dioscurides, a 7th century manuscript of Dioscurides' De Materia Medica

Mandrake plants have long been the subject of legend, including the belief that their roots scream when they are dug up. Photo: De Materia Medica by Dioscurides in the Biblioteca Nazionale of Naples, via Wikimedia Commons.

The lots affected are: 15986504, 15986506, 15995174 and 16008520, all with the expiration date 8/2019.

If eaten mandrake plants can cause hallucinations, blurred vision, headaches, vomiting and raised heart rate, among other symptoms. They were nonetheless used in traditional medicine for centuries for their supposed abilities to relieve pain and put people to sleep.