Sunday, August 24, 2014

CHRISTOPHER McCANDLESS LEAVES A WARNING TO THOSE WHO FORAGE, INTO THE WILD........

A NEW TOXIC PLANT TO BEWARE OF WHEN LIVING OFF THE LAND
HEDYSARUM ALPINUM - The Wild Potato
Not only has Ronald Hamilton uncovered the real cause of death for Christopher McCandless, we now know that a plant before thought to be perfectly harmless and edible can actually be quite deadly in a certain population and under the right circumstances, both of which were criteria that Mr. McCandless, in his youthful enthusiasm, tragically came to meet.

In his paper "The Silent Fire: ODAP and the Death of Christopher McCandlessHamilton, a Writer and Book Binder by trade, relays the fascinating coincidence he happened upon while reading Jon Krakauer's "Into The Wild" between the information in that book and a Nazi experiment carried out at Vapniarca, a little-known World War II concentration camp in the German-occupied Ukraine, he had once read about in his past.

"In 1942, as a macabre experiment, an officer at Vapniarca started feeding the Jewish inmates bread made from seeds of the grass pea, Lathyrus sativus, a common legume that has been known since the time of Hippocrates to be toxic.

—"but in any case, once the effects had begun, there was simply no way to reverse them …. The disease is called, simply, neurolathyrism, or more commonly, “lathyrism."

It’s been estimated that, in the twentieth century, more than a hundred thousand people worldwide were permanently paralyzed from eating grass pea. The injurious substance in the plant turned out to be a neurotoxin, beta-N-oxalyl-L-alpha-beta diaminoproprionic acid, a compound commonly referred to as beta-ODAP or, more often, just ODAP."  

Hamilton reports, ODAP "affects different people, different sexes, and even different age groups in different ways. It even affects people within those age groups differently …. The one constant about ODAP poisoning, however, very simply put, is this: those who will be hit the hardest are always young men between the ages of 15 and 25 and who are essentially starving or ingesting very limited calories, who have been engaged in heavy physical activity, and who suffer trace-element shortages from meager, unvaried diets." - Jon Krakauer - from his 2013 article in the NewYorker: How Chris McCandless Died

The Seeds of the Wild Potato
"It might be said that Christopher McCandless did indeed starve to death in the Alaskan wild, but this only because he’d been poisoned, and the poison had rendered him too weak to move about, to hunt or forage, and, toward the end, “extremely weak,” “too weak to walk out,” and, having “much trouble just to stand up.” He wasn't truly starving in the most technical sense of that condition. He’d simply become slowly paralyzed. And it wasn't arrogance that had killed him, it was ignorance. Also, it was ignorance which must be forgiven, for the facts underlying his death were to remain unrecognized to all, scientists and lay people alike, literally for decades."  Ronald Hamilton

As Jon Krakauer describes in "Into The Wild" (available here) McCandless had become reliant on the seeds of the wild potato in the weeks before his death, and had made numerous journal entries about them as well as having taken pictures of them collected in Gallon sized plastic bags. And sadly, in one of his last posts, it becomes clear that he has actually understood the deadly mistake that he has made.......  

"EXTREMELY WEAK. FAULT OF POT[ATO] SEED. MUCH TROUBLE JUST TO STAND UP. STARVING. GREAT JEOPARDY."  Christopher McCandless - July 30th,1992


"Hamilton’s discovery that McCandless perished because he ate toxic seeds is unlikely to persuade many Alaskans to regard McCandless in a more sympathetic light, but it may prevent other backcountry foragers from accidentally poisoning themselves. Had McCandless’s guidebook to edible plants warned that HEDYSARUM ALPINUM seeds contain a neurotoxin that can cause paralysis, he probably would have walked out of the wild in late August with no more difficulty than when he walked into the wild in April, and would still be alive today.  If that were the case, Chris McCandless would now be forty-five years old."
- Jon Krakauer

I would like to thank my friend Mitchell Wilson for making me aware of this article, and the important information it contains, in his post today in his group The Squatcher's Lounge.

Please read the entire article here: The New Yorker

AND PLEASE SHARE SO THAT NO ONE AGAIN MAKES THIS FATAL MISTAKE.
  

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Max! Sorry I just saw your comment, as I'm not on here much any more :)

      Nadia

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