A 51-year-old hunter is recovering in Christchurch Hospital after a severe case of poisoning from eating tutu berries while on a hunting trip.

Canterbury District Health Board said the man consumed a significant amount of the berries – a similar size to blueberries – unaware they were highly toxic.

Dr Paul Gee, Emergency Medicine Specialist, says the man suffered seizures and required intensive care at Christchurch Hospital, but is now recovering.

Tutu shrubs (Coriaria arborea) – also known colloquially as ‘toot’  – are common along bush tracks and river banks throughout New Zealand.  Tutu fruit in summer producing purple and black berries.  Though the berries are sweet to the taste they are also, unfortunately, poisonous.  Most parts of the tutu plant contain the poison tutin, and there is no specific antidote.

Dr Gee says every year there are enquiries about potential tutu berry poisonings or actual cases.  Livestock deaths have been attributed to eating tutu and there are even documented stories of circus elephant deaths.

Trampers and day walkers are warned not to eat unidentified purple or black New Zealand native berries.  There have been instances in New Zealand where tourists have eaten the berries, leading to unexplained collapses and seizures. In almost all cases patients recover but deaths have been reported in the past.

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