Warning after Tutu berry poisoning

Friday 2 March 2018Media release2 minutes to read

A 51 year-old hunter has survived a severe case of tutu berry poisoning.

The man was hunting in the South Island and consumed a significant amount of tutu berries, unaware they are highly toxic.

Dr Paul Gee, Emergency Medicine Specialist, says the man suffered seizures and required intensive care at Christchurch Hospital, but is now recovering.

Tutu shrubs (Coriaria arborea) are common along bush tracks and river banks throughout New Zealand. Tutu fruit in summer producing purple and black berries of similar size to blueberries. Though they are sweet to the taste they are also, unfortunately, poisonous.

Most parts of the tutu plant contain the poison tutin, and there is no specific antidote.

Dr Gee says every year there are enquiries about potential tutu berry poisonings or actual cases. Livestock deaths have been attributed to eating tutu and there are even documented stories of circus elephant deaths.

Trampers and day walkers are warned not to eat unidentified purple or black New Zealand native berries.

There have been instances in New Zealand where tourists have eaten the berries, leading to unexplained collapses and seizures.

In almost all cases patients recover but deaths have been reported in the past.

Links:

Tutu; Coriara arborea images at the NZ Plant Conservation Network;
http://nzpcn.org.nz/flora_details.aspx?ID=1749

A full listing of toxic plants in NZ can be found at;
https://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/42013/Poisonous_plants_nz.pdf

First aid advice can be sought from National Poisons Centre 0800 POISON (0800 764 766)

ENDS

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Page last updated: 20 December 2018

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