How do people learn to cook a poisonous plant safely
In 1860, Robert Burke and William Wills famously led the first European expedition across the largely unknown interior of Australia.
t did not go well. Due to a combination of poor leadership, bad planning and misfortune, Burke, Wills and their companion John King ran out of food on the return journey.
They became stranded at a stream called Cooper’s Creek, having found no way to carry enough water to cross a stretch of desert to the nearest colonial outpost at the unpromisingly named Mount Hopeless.
“We have been unable to leave the creek,” wrote Wills. “Both camels are dead and our provisions are done. We are trying to live the best way we can.”
The local Yandruwandha people seemed to thrive despite the conditions that were proving so tough for Wills’s party.
The Yandruwandha gave the explorers cakes made from the crushed seed pods of a clover-like fern called nardoo
Burke then fell out with them and, unwisely, drove them away by firing his pistol.
But perhaps the trio had already learned enough to survive? They found fresh nardoo and decided to make their own cakes. At first, all seemed well. The nardoo cakes satisfied their appetites, yet they felt ever weaker.
Within a week, Wills and Burke were dead. It turns out that safely preparing nardoo is a complex process.
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