Experts Are Warning That This New Trend On Instagram Could Have Life-Threatening Consequences

Food photography is pretty much synonymous with social media – it seems that someone, somewhere on the internet is always tucking into something tasty and attractive. Of late, however, some of the fare on our feeds has got more and more elaborate, to the extent that some of the online culinary presentations almost border on art. But it has come to light that, in the pursuit of making their plates look pretty, some Instagram influencers are actually risking peoples’ lives.

James Wong is a botanist of Malaysian extraction and an award-winning TV presenter and designer of gardens based in the U.K. The 37-year-old nature-lover honed his craft at London’s famous Kew Gardens, before gaining a Master’s degree in ethnobotany from the University of Kent.

Subsequently, Wong’s big broadcasting break came at the age of 27, when he hosted the Grow Your Own Drugs TV series for the BBC in 2008. The show encouraged viewers to forego the pharmacy and cultivate ingredients to make their own natural remedies instead. In this way, the audience could successfully treat minor ailments and feel better after making major cash savings.

The program proved to be a massive success in the U.K., quickly becoming Britain’s highest-rated gardening show and establishing Wong as a household name. As well as popping up on other radio and TV shows as a go-to gardening expert, the botanist put his name to a spin-off book. Grow Your Own Drugs: Easy Recipes for Natural Remedies and Beauty Fixes soon became an international best seller after its publication in 2009.

Nonetheless, while Wong was eager to widely promote the healing powers of ingesting plants and flowers, as a botanist, he was also careful to advise caution when it came to green-fingered amateurs consuming their crops. So, on every episode of Grow Your Own Drugs, Wong emphasized the importance of consulting a medical professional before embarking on a course of self-prescribed and self-concocted cures.

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And Wong underlined this wariness in an interview with the Manchester Evening News local newspaper in 2009. “Making your own natural remedies for minor complaints can be easy, cheap and fun,” the TV personality said. “But you must know exactly what you’re using and how to use it. I’m not against conventional medicine, and it’s really important you get yourself diagnosed by a doctor before trying natural remedies.”

Consequently, given the efforts he had put into promoting the health properties of various plants, we can only imagine Wong’s dismay at one of the latest in things on the internet. The botanist noticed that an increasingly popular floral-themed Instagram fad was actually putting people’s lives at risk. As a result, Wong took to Twitter in early 2018 in an attempt to end the potentially deadly trend.

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The online craze in question was the prevalence of people using pretty flowers to embellish various food offerings, thereby instantly making them Insta-worthy. The fancy culinary practice appears to have filtered down from Michelin-starred restaurants, to fancy delis and finally on to our Instagram feeds.

But while some blooms add color and flavor to various dishes, the floral appeal is purely and simply an aesthetic one for many internet influencers. It is estimated that more than 130,000 food images are shared on Instagram alone every single day. Consequently, a sprinkling of edible petals can really help an online foodie’s smoothie stand out from the crowd.

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Ironically, the trend also ties in with the current craze for “clean eating.” This culinary concept sees consumers shun processed or refined foods in favor of honest-to-goodness fruit and vegetables and plenty of raw whole foods. Naturally, people perceive these organic ingredients as being healthier for them.

Nevertheless, as Wong has warned, not all natural foods can be considered healthy – particularly when it comes to flowers. In fact, many blooms are toxic and can cause major problems for an unwitting end user. So, rather than see his efforts in the field fail due to an internet fad, the botanist was keen to raise some awareness on the matter.

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In late January 2018, Wong shared an image of a rather lovely looking dessert on the feed of his Twitter account. The photogenic food in this case seemed to have some sort of pink smoothie base and was topped with a smattering of succulent berries and a sprinkle of white flowers.

However, while the fare certainly looked appealing, the effects eating it could have on a person’s body certainly were not. In his accompanying caption to his innocent-looking sweet tweet, Wong was scathing, “Another day, another ‘clean eating’ Instagrammer posting images of toxic flowers on food.”

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The botanist went on to explain, “It may not contain dairy or gluten *gasp* but it does contain the toxic plant alkaloid lycorine.” Listing the unpleasant and potentially dangerous symptoms the flowery garnish could cause, Wong added, “Itching, swelling, (and in quantity) nausea, vomiting and convulsions.”

In a follow-up tweet, Wong issued some guidelines for those wanting to get involved with the edible-flower fad without putting their lives on the line. “If you are not 100-percent sure something is edible, just don’t eat it,” he advised. “If it’s a staple eaten for centuries, which you don’t have a diagnosed medical intolerance or allergy to, it’s probably safe.”

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In fact, Wong’s Twitter targeting was not the first time he had taken aim at tastemakers and their trend for including blooms in their food photographs. Writing for U.K. newspaper The Guardian in June 2017, the botanist observed, “It increasingly seems that, in the pursuit of the perfect picture, a generation of bright-eyed foodies have been ransacking the flower borders for anything pretty to top their smoothie bowls – even if it is quite toxic.”

And it seems that Wong has good reason to worry. In 2017 a Chinese health vlogger was actually forced to abandon a live stream after accidentally consuming the toxic Agave americana plant. It is believed that the unfortunate woman thought she was in fact eating Aloe vera, which is said to aid hydration.

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While the two plants look incredibly similar, consuming Agave americana can cause swelling and a burning sensation in the throat. In the footage, featured on YouTube in July 2017, the vlogger is seen taking a few bites from a large leaf before ending the stream. According to the film report on the video-sharing platform, the Chinese woman was later hospitalized with her symptoms.

In order to make sure such munching mishaps are off the menu, some companies now offer courses to teach foodies which flowers are safe to eat and how to identify them. However, with more than 500 varieties of poisonous plants growing in the U.S. alone, it is probably safest to avoid sourcing your own edible blooms altogether to avoid a toxic takeaway.

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But help is at hand for trendy gourmands. These days, many supermarkets and grocery stores sell a selection of edible flowers alongside their other fresh produce. These attractive ingredients will have been assembled with the help and advice of botanical experts. Therefore, would-be foodies can easily make their edibles look pretty – safe in the knowledge that they will not be leaving an extremely bad taste in their mouths.

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