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How I accidentally poisoned my parents

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OCTOBER 20, 2022

After years of foraging for edible foods without any real training, it was only a matter of time before I was humbled.

I grew up cooking with ingredients I collected from my neighborhood, like making pies from wild blackberries or pesto from basil patches, but only more recently have I started foraging for less recognizable foods. 

A couple weeks ago, I had plans to go home for a weekend — just a short BART ride away — and decided I would put my foraging skills to good use and make a gift for my mom. She doesn’t drink a lot of caffeine but loves the flavor of coffee, so I thought coffeeberries would be a good treat for her and a great opportunity for me to collect them for the first time. 

From what I knew — or what I thought I knew — roasted coffee berry seeds can be used as a substitute for decaf coffee beans, and the plants are all over campus. 

The day before I was set to leave, I spent hours painstakingly collecting the berries, removing the seeds from the fruit, cleaning and roasting them. By the end of this arduous process, I had a perfect container of coffee-smelling seeds. I was able to gift them to my mom that same night. 

The next morning, I woke up to the sound of vomiting. 

It turns out my parents treated themselves to some coffeeberry coffee that morning and, despite a reportedly great taste, quickly realized something was wrong. 

It turns out that coffeeberries are actually very powerful laxatives. 

After some urgent Googling and a quick call with poison control, we all realized they were going to be fine, but I was mortified. My parents reassured me that they appreciated the effort I put in and that I should continue to forage, but I figured this was a sign I should stop — at least before I seriously poison anyone.

Now that my parents are recovered, and they’ve had time to make fun of me mercilessly — as they should — I’ve come to terms with my actions a little more. That isn’t to say that I’m not embarrassed or that I don’t regret accidentally poisoning my family. Instead, I’m just grateful that it wasn’t more serious. I did my research, I identified the plant correctly, it just turns out that I got unlucky. It was a reminder how dangerous foraging can be. To anyone looking to try their hand in foraging, take this story as a tale of caution.

I’m not recommending that you go out and try to forage without adequate proper training. When in doubt, ask. And if you’re not in doubt, ask anyway. Even after years of practice, it’s clear that I need to dedicate more time to learning (and less time to mindlessly trusting the internet). I’m just saying that if it was time for me to be humbled, at least I didn’t seriously hurt anyone, and the people I did affect are nice enough to forgive me. 

However, I have a feeling I won’t hear the end of this any time soon.

Contact Daisy Friedman at 


OCTOBER 20, 2022