There have been a few reports in the media of people claiming to have become seriously ill from inadvertently ingesting common cabbage worms while consuming raw cabbage. The ‘cabbage tapeworm’ was rumored to cause a deadly brain infection known as neurocysticercosis. However, scientific data to back it up was lacking, and research on this topic is scarce for a good reason.
Cabbage worms have no toxic effect if consumed. Accidentally eating a cabbage worm will have no effect other than adding some unintended protein. Cabbage worms are the larval phase of the Cabbage White Butterfly life cycle. Reports alleging that it carries tapeworm are not based on scientific evidence.
Spotting a half-eaten cabbage worm in your fresh coleslaw may immediately fill you with panic, but should it? Are cabbage worms parasite carriers, or is the half-eaten worm in your salad just an unusual source of protein? Let’s unravel what you should do if you accidentally consume a cabbage worm.
What Happens If You Swallow A Cabbage Worm?
When most people think of cabbage worms, they may think of the cute critter in Eric Carl’s famous children’s book, ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar.’ In reality, cabbage worms are a scourge to most vegetable gardeners, as they can have a devastating impact on a harvest. However, munching one, or even an entire plateful, is unlikely to have any effect on your health.
Cabbage worms are a common pest on all Brassica plants, including cauliflower and broccoli, but they are not toxic to humans. According to Professor Timothy Sly, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, there are no harmful parasites found ‘in or on’ cabbages unless the vegetables have been purposely tainted with something harmful.
Research into the possible effects of consuming cabbage worm larvae is scarce because there is simply nothing worth researching. Eating a few cabbage worms along with your vegetables will definitely result in a far worse outcome for the worm than for the person eating it.
Finding a cabbage worm in your salad may not be a great culinary addition to your meal, but it may not be the worst news. The fewer pesticides used while growing, the more likely these pesky insects will thrive on the plant. Cabbage worms are not proper worms at all and are only in the larval stage of the cabbage white butterfly life cycle.
The hype about cabbage worms causing human brain tapeworm started with an article that appeared in a Times Of India article. The entire piece has since been refuted, and in fact, the tapeworms that they describe can only be acquired by eating undercooked pork. It is definitely not carried by any type of insect. However, the damage was done, and the cabbageworm-tapeworm connection was made in many people’s minds.
Scientific data strongly indicates nothing will happen if you eat a cabbage worm. They are not toxic at all. Given the prevalence of these tiny camouflaged garden-wreckers on the undersides of vegetable leaves, chances are good that plenty of them are regularly consumed, and the eaters have all lived to tell the tale.
In some parts of Africa, some types of caterpillar worms are considered a delicacy. They are not the same species as the Cabbage White butterfly caterpillar, but there is no reason to believe they would differ significantly in terms of nutrition. Bugs, like caterpillars, are coming under the spotlight as a potential high-protein food source for the future. In 2015 a team of food scientists from Cornwell University placed third in a Global Business Challenge.
How To Remove Cabbage Worm From Vegetables?
Encountering live cabbage worms on your green leafy vegetables may give you shivers, but it also means that the vegetables are not coated in harmful poisons. Removing them is as simple as washing the vegetables thoroughly; the tiny caterpillars often fall off.
Some cabbage worm favorites like cauliflower and broccoli have a lot of nooks and crannies where the tiny worms can hide. In this case, soaking your vegetables for 5 to 10 minutes will drown any pests, and the caterpillars will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Just be sure to weigh down your vegetables, so they are entirely submerged. You can use a heavy plate or bowl to keep them completely submerged.
Another method to ensure that your vegetables are free of cabbage worms is to soak them in warm salt water before cooking.
How Long Do Cabbage Worms Live On Vegetables?
Cabbage worms are the caterpillar stage of the common Cabbage White butterfly. The wiggly worm stage is just one part of their complex life cycle: egg, larvae, pupae, and butterfly.
It will only feast on leafy green leaves during the larval stage. For the first week after hatching, the small caterpillars feed on the underside of host plants before moving to the top surface as they grow larger during the second week. After about two and a half weeks, it will begin to pupate and no longer have a worm-like appearance.
Are Cabbage Leaves With Worm Damage Safe To Eat?
Although cabbage white butterflies are a pretty sight in summer, they cause significant damage to vegetable gardens and crops during the larval stage. There are various ways to treat cabbage worm infestations, but by the time it has been spotted, some destruction has already happened, and leaves may have already been damaged.
Fortunately, although the plant may look less aesthetically pleasing, there is no reason to discard it. Eradicating the cabbage worms while the plant is growing needs to be the first step to prevent further destruction of the leaves. If the larvae can be removed quickly, either manually or by applying a natural control remedy, the vegetables are still perfectly edible, even if the leaves do have a few holes. One pesticide that I strongly suggest and that has been approved for organic gardening is this one, available on Amazon. It doesn’t kill the good worms, bees, and other beneficial insects.
If you have purchased cruciferous vegetables, like kale or cabbage, that have noticeable cabbage worm holes in the leaves, they are still perfectly safe to eat. Although accidentally eating a cabbage worm will not have any adverse health effects, it may not be appetizing, so be sure to wash the vegetable thoroughly before preparation. Soaking it for 5 to 10 minutes will drown any insects that may still be present on the plant.
Can You Get Tapeworm From Cabbage?
Tapeworm is spread from poor sanitation, lack of hygiene, or eating infected pork that hasn’t been thoroughly cooked. It is therefore impossible to get any form of tapeworm from consuming vegetables unless it was somehow tainted with raw sewerage, then not washed before it is eaten, or eaten with dirty hands carrying tapeworm eggs.
Vegetables cannot harbor tapeworm. There is no risk of getting tapeworm from consuming vegetables that have been washed and cooked correctly.
Various forms of tapeworms can infect humans, and none are pleasant. However, no variety of tapeworms is carried by any type of vegetables. The only way one could get infected with a tapeworm is by unsanitary practices surrounding food preparation or ingesting the tapeworm eggs from your hands while eating.
Harmless cabbage worms are found on many types of cruciferous plants, like kale, cabbage, and broccoli. While they may not be a welcome sight hiding among your cabbage leaves, the small caterpillars only damage the plants and are entirely harmless even if they are accidentally consumed by humans. They do not appear in the life cycle of any species of tapeworm.
How Do I Know If My Cabbage Has Worms?
Although cabbage worms are not toxic and can be consumed quite safely without any side effects, there are not too many people who want to test this claim! The pesky caterpillars are often perfectly camouflaged and hide among the plant’s leaves.
Fortunately, sometimes visible clues can be observed on the outside of vegetables that host hungry cabbage worms inside. It may not be possible to see the internal damage, but it is worth regularly checking the exterior as one can usually spot outward signs of infestation. Management strategies include encouraging biological controls and using organic pesticides to control cabbage white butterfly larvae.
Gardeners can often save their harvest by manually removing the worms at the first trace of cabbage worm infestation on their plants. Look out for the following signs on vegetables:
- Small green caterpillars on the plants, especially on the underside of developing leaves.
- Leaves may have visible damage – in particular, holes around the veins. Severely damaged leaves are almost skeletal in appearance. In severe infestations, only the stems and large veins remain as the cabbage worm devours all the soft leafy material.
- You may notice dark fecal material has collected, especially on sections where leaves and stems meet.
- Leaves may contain holes or have damaged edges.
Unless the cabbage or other cruciferous vegetables are badly damaged, you don’t need to discard them. Thoroughly wash any vegetables that you are planning to eat. Finding live cabbage worms is a good indicator that the plant was grown free of harsh pesticides!
Eating a cabbage worm will not adversely affect your well-being. It may have a bit of a gross factor and may taste slightly different from the vegetable taste you were expecting, but it poses no risk to human health. Given the prevalence of cabbage worms in Brassica vegetables and their excellent camouflage, you may already have eaten a few in your life without even knowing it!
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