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December 9, 2021 December 2021 No Comments

Meeting on 22 October, for the first time since July, the South Wairarapa Rebus Club discussed the near-term prospect of our having to deal with members who might be unvaccinated. A clear line was drawn between those who were refused vaccination for medical reasons and any who might choose to remain unvaccinated for their own reasons. The consensus of the meeting was to await the possibility of further Government regulation before determining our own individual club policy at the February AGM.

The Guest Speaker was our own John Reeve, a retired Government toxicologist, talking about toxic plants in New Zealand. He distinguished “toxic hazard” relating to the nature of a poisonous substance, from “toxic risk” which reflects the likelihood of human contact with the substance at levels determined to have toxic effects. Even for carcinogens, if the hazard is present in a low enough quantity, it is without risk.

Plants are not benign. Many have evolved the ability to secrete substances to discourage browsing by fungi, insects and animals. For example, when a zucchini plant is attacked by a fungus it produces an internal fungicide for self-protection, a substance which is known to be toxic to humans. Only a very dedicated zucchini lover could eat enough “organic” zucchini for symptoms to appear but commercially grown zucchini that have been sprayed against the fungus do not produce the toxin at all. 

Zucchini, along with pumpkin, cucumber and squash can also produce a toxin in response to browsing animals. Cucurbitacin gives rise to an unusually strong, bitter taste, a signal, if encountered, to spit it out, quickly. 

Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are liver toxins. Comfrey can be used topically for treating wounds, skin ulcers, bruises, sprains and strains, but if taken orally, as tea for example, can cause severe liver damage. Comfrey is best processed via the compost heap. Its deep roots harvest nutrients from subsoil that most edible plants can’t reach.

Caffeine in coffee beans, mostly seen as desirable for a “hit” early in the day, can become neurotoxic after 8 or 9 cups. Coca Cola has similar levels of caffeine.

Some plants produce naturally a chemical, sodium fluoroacetate. It is a toxin that is produced naturally to deter browsing. In NZ we  synthesise it commercially and use it to kill possums and rats. We call it 1080 because that was its catalogue number as a poison back in 1942 when it was identified as a rodenticide. It is biodegradable and highly effective against rats, mustelids, mice, possums and hedgehogs.

The South Wairarapa Rebus Club meets in the South Wairarapa Working Men’s Club on the fourth Friday morning of each month and organises an outing in those months with a fifth Friday. Anyone in the retired age group who may be interested in SW Rebus Club is welcome to come along to a meeting as a visitor.  Please contact Kay Paget 0274 729 864.

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