A Chinese social media star almost died from poisoning when she bit into a plant she thought to be aloe vera to demonstrate its health effects while shooting a video for her followers. The popular online media personality who goes by the name of Zhang instead bit into a leaf of Agave Americana, a toxic ornamental plant which is commonly called American aloe and looks similar to the nutritious Aloe Vera, but it nevertheless isn’t closely related to plants in the genus Aloe.
In a matter of seconds, Zhang’s smile turns into a frown, and she begins to describe how the taste of the plant has become overwhelmingly ‘bitter’. Not long after, she explained that her mouth started going numb and her throat felt like it was “on fire”, after which the 26-year-old turned off the live stream and rushed herself to the hospital.
By the time she arrived at the hospital, Zhang had developed severe blisters and a rash. Her stomach was pumped and the remaining pieces of the poisonous plant were removed, after which the blogger was in a stable condition. According to doctors, however, not coming to the hospital immediately could have resulted in tragedy.
Although traditional Mexican liquors, tequila and mescal, are produced by extracting sugars from the heart of the Agave, skilled preparation and craftsmanship are needed for the process. According to experts from Cornell University’s college of agricultural and life sciences, Agave contains poisonous calcium oxalates as well as irritating oils in its sap, as well as “toxic compounds, not all of which have been positively identified”.
A comparison between Aloe Vera and an Agave Americana plant; the former improves cardiovascular health, digestion, and skin health
Ironically, Zhang’s live stream was titled “Aloe Vera Feast”. While the Agave doesn’t have culinary uses, Aloe Vera is thought to influence the body in numerous positive ways. Generally, only the clear inner part of the stalk is eaten, as the outer skin of the plant is often tough and stringy. However, Aloe Vera leaves are thought to be harmless – other than producing a laxative effect in larger doses.