Allotmenteers growing courgettes on their plot might be thankful if they stockpiled loo roll during lockdown as it has emerged that a batch of Mr Fothergill’s zucchini seeds may contain seeds that will grow into toxic hybrid plants. The courgettes that grow from these hybrids contain high concentrations of a natural plant steroid called cucurbitacin E, which is very bitter but also acts a potent laxative.
A warning about the putative lavatorial impact of these courgettes was first reported in June on the Brighton and Hove Allotment Federation web site. A lively discussion with frequent interruptions has grown on their site ever since. Members eventually worked out that the source of the dodgy seeds was Mr Fothergill’s. Within the last hour, the seed company has posted a recall notice on its website, Twitter and elsewhere:
URGENT PRODUCT RECALL NOTICE It has come to our attention that a batch of our Courgette Zucchini seeds, labelled batch code "I", could contain a small number of seeds that could produce bitter-tasting fruits. This could be due to unusually high levels of cucurbitacins...
So, if you’re harvesting your courgettes (zucchini) this weekend check your seed packet batch number before starting that stirfry and don’t eat any courgette that tastes very bitter.
Interestingly, the toxic effects of cucurbitacin E exists in this family of plants to protect them from aphids, it acts as a natural insecticide. However, it may also have medical applications. The compound and its chemical cousins are being investigated for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even anticancer properties. Of course, the pharmaceutical scientists will have to modify the structure to reduce the alimentary effects of the compound if it is to be a successful medicinal drug.