With offerings like a “Floraled Elderflower Quiche,” Johnna Holmgren’s new cookbook Tales From a Forager’s Kitchen is meant to be a guide for “adventurous eaters.”
But now the cookbook, released in May, has been recalled by Rodale Books which was bought by Hearst early this year. Reviewers on Amazon and experts warned that many of its ingredients are “dangerous” to eat, “nasty” tasting and possibly even “toxic.
This is the first book written by Holmgren, an Instagram celebrity with just over 130,000 followers on the social media platform. It was initially greeted with some glowing reviews. One Amazon reviewer called it “a little dose of forest magic we could all use these days.” Another said it was “a step into an enchanted world.”
So what’s the problem?
The suspect ingredients include: raw elderberries, raw morel mushrooms and foraged acorns.
Let’s start with the elderberries. Sherrie Hagenhoff, an elderberry farmer, told Buzzfeed News that while some people are able to eat a couple of elderberries without any problems, the fruit “should be heated or fermented if one wants to consume a larger amount.”
That’s because the fruit’s stems, leaves and seeds contain cyanide, which can be avoided if the fruit is fermented or cooked beforehand. One Amazon reviewer, who gave the book a 1-star rating, described their confusion at seeing raw elderberries among the list of ingredients for a fruit smoothie.
“The elderberry seeds (inside each berry) contain cyanide-inducing glycoside which is toxic to humans, to get rid of this toxin you just need to cook the berries first,” the reviewer wrote. “People have been poisoned from consuming too many raw elderberries, which has caused symptoms of nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, dizziness, numbness, and weakness.”
In August 1983, eight people became sick after consuming raw elderberries after they drank a juice with the raw fruit inside, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The more people drank, the CDC says, the sicker they became.
Then there are the raw morel mushrooms, which were included in the cookbook as a recipe for “Dark Chocolate Dipped Fungi.”
In another 1-star review, an Amazon user wrote that, “Yes, you can eat some mushrooms raw, in moderation, and feel no ill effects despite digesting very little of what you’re consuming.
“Morel mushrooms however, will specifically make you sick if you eat them raw,” he added. “Don’t eat raw morels.”
Another person warned: “My boyfriend was violently ill after eaten undercooked morels.”
“If you try the chocolate dipped raw wild fungi recipe, better clear your calendar for the next few days while you are sitting on the toilet,” the reviewer wrote. “This is not a joke.”
A third person asserted that Holmgren “knows nothing about wild mushrooms that it is almost criminal what is written!”
“Do not attempt to eat any of the recipes for mushrooms as they can be poisonous,” they cautioned. “Trust me I have been collecting and eating wild mushrooms for thirty years. Eating an uncooked morel is against everything that is taught.”
At the time of publication, Holmgren’s cookbook had 48 percent 5-star reviews and 45 percent 1-star reviews, including one that calls the book “dangerous” and another that describes some of its ingredients as “toxic to the human body.”
In his interview with Buzzfeed, Richard Pizarro, from the Minnesota Mycological Society, said that it’s also hard to tell morel mushrooms apart from false morels, which are toxic mushrooms that can cause vomiting, dizziness, fatigue and, in worst-case scenarios, coma or seizure.
Holmgren does have a warning on her website that “it is solely up to the reader to ensure proper plant identification.”
“Some wild plants are poisonous or can have serious adverse health effects,” it reads. “I am not a health professional, medical doctor, nor a nutritionist. It is up to the reader to verify nutritional information and health benefits with qualified professionals for all edible plants listed in this web site and any published content.”
Finally, we have the two cups of full acorns that go with the pumpkin soup.
Some are concerned that Holmgren left out a crucial part of preparing acorns: Leaching. As noted by Yahoo Lifestyle, raw acorns have tannin — a bitter substance — that can be removed by soaking them in water or grinding them up before boiling them.
Tannin, often used in leather production, is so “nasty” that it’s unlikely a person would eat enough to cause real damage to their body, University of California, Berkeley, professor Philip Stark told Buzzfeed.
While “theoretically edible,” the acorns would make the pumpkin soup difficult to enjoy, an Amazon user wrote.
“Don’t eat unleached acorns,” they wrote. “I would not even attempt this recipe because I can only assume the unprocessed acorns make it completely inedible.”
Holmgren hasn’t posted about the recall on her Instagram. Fox News and Yahoo Lifestyle both report that she didn’t reply to a request for comment.
After the growing complaints, Rodale and Holmgren announced that they would be recalling the cookbook and offering full refunds to anyone who bought it. The statement specifically mentioned mushrooms and elderberries in the reasoning to recall the cookbook.
“We are all committed to publishing books that offer reliable and comprehensive guidance about their subjects,” the statement read, “and we regret the inconvenience to our booksellers and readers.”