They Are Not Escargot: Do Not Eat Garden Slugs
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They Are Not Escargot: Do Not Eat Garden Slugs

Can you safely eat garden slugs in the same way as escargot? They are very similar in appearance save for the lack of a hard shell, but the answer really comes as a surprise...

Escargot is a dish of cooked land snails typically served as an appetizer and considered to be a delicacy. Served in many French restaurants and enjoyed by epicurean palates around the world, escargot is a popular favorite with fanciers of fine foods. Expertly prepared and their meat stuffed back into their shells, escargot is offered up on a platter to discerning diners. It may well be an acquired taste. I have never tried escargot personally but am curious to give it a go someday. Escargot is known to be totally safe if when prepared by culinary experts familiar with the gastropod. Not the least of which, there are edible and inedible varieties of escargot. Of the edible varieties of all escargot, the questionable contents of their stomachs much be removed prior to cooking.

Purging, fasting and replacement of wholesome greens as a food of edible escargot snails for several days prior to preparation are required. One would not think to do such with a garden-caught slug, whose stomach contents likely contain decayed matter such as leaves, garbage carrion (decaying meat) and would be host to a potent load of viruses, bacteria and parasites in its own right.

Are Garden Slugs Edible?

The question comes up occasionally about garden slugs; are they edible? Certainly not the raw ones from what we know slugs and snails as a whole typically consume.

Back when I raised reptiles, live wild-caught garden slugs made a good snack from my cold-blooded pets. Reptiles would have access to slugs and snails in the wild, and equally noted that reptiles are often host to a variety of pathogens such as salmonella, and parasites such as pinworms. Gut load parasites in reptiles are kept in natural balances but in warm-blooded animals, sickness usually results from the accidental or misguided ingesting of items that contains these unfamiliar parasites.

a brown banana slug crawling over a thick branch

(image source)

Snails and slugs are hosts to certain parasites known to cause meningitis. One does not even have to actually eat the snail or slug to ingest the parasites. The parasites can be deposited by the gastropod in their slime trail and cases of meningitis in humans have been traced to having eaten lettuce and other garden vegetables that were improperly washed. The slime trail of a snail or slug on the vegetable being the vector of the disease.

The worm-like parasites transmitted by ingestion of a slug are of the type typically found in diseased rat lungs but carried as larvae in some snails and slugs. Rats and mice being creatures that regularly prey upon these gastropods in the wild; they are carriers of both parasites and bacteria that can lead to meningitis.

What is Meningitis? Do Garden Slugs Have Meningitis?

Meningitis is a disease of the spinal fluids and fluid that surrounds the brain. This infection of the clear fluids in and around the spinal cord and brain can cause the brain to swell. Surgeons can treat the patient by draining excess fluids from the skull, and through the use of antibiotics. Viral meningitis is less severe and typically resolves without intervention but bacterial meningitis can result in brain damage that includes hearing loss, learning disability and damage of brain material itself.

Meningitis can be contagious, spread by respiratory or oral secretions but it is not nearly as contagious as the common cold or influenza. It is repeated exposure incidents such as health care workers, or couples in a relationship whereby one person is inflicted and passes the disease along to his or her partner whereby transmission becomes more likely.

In cases of diagnosed meningitis where hospital treatment and confinement is required, it can take several weeks to get healthy and months before a full recovery is realized. -This is hardly worth the risk of consuming a local gastropod for any epicurean experiment.

If you want escargot, trust a culinary chef not your luck or intuition about wild foods in nature. Don't eat wild garden slugs.

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Comments (16)

Informative and interesting article. I'm glad I don't eat snails or slugs of any sort - I'm not a fussy eater, but escargot has just never appealed to me. I think I'll stick to that. I guess a person should be really sure of the restaurants that they eat escargot at too - but if restaurants know the dangers, I'm sure they make absolutely sure of preparing the delicacy properly. Meningitis is scary. Even a lumbar puncture is scary for a child (and some adults) - used to extract fluid from around the spinal cord to send for meningitis tests.

EEEYuck! I don't want to see a garden slug, let alone eat one! But you've done a great service for anyone who might be tempted to find their own escargot.

I had a lumbar puncture as a child, -when I was four years old I had a brain tumor and the examination of spinal fluid was required before the tumor was identified..

You know who likes to eat garden slugs dont you? Thats right! Chickens... I wonder if it is a problem for them too? I suspect not.. they love em!

Garden slug destroys plants and they should be separated from plants. Great post! :-)

I'm glad the brain tumor was identified and sorted out. I mentioned the lumbar puncture and meningitis as my younger son (now 11) had a lumbar puncture last year when he had an unexplained high temperature that wouldn't come down, mean headaches and the light hurt his eyes. A bit of a stiff neck too, so they did a lumbar puncture to check for meningitis. He was very brave and sat very still. I think I was more scared than he was. He didn't have meningitis and in fact they couldn't work out what he had, but the high temperature did eventually come down on it's own. He stayed in hospital for two nights (and me with him) so they could monitor him and do further tests, but nothing odd came up. Just one of those things.

Don't chickens have a higher body temperature than humans? This may be a factor too; a degree or two difference can help neutralize the parasites in-stomach. The strength of gastric juices too might be a factor. Human digestive juices are just not that strong. Some animals (like lions, vultures, hyena, etc) can eat decaying meat with no ill effects..

I love escargot! I had them at a French restaurant in Lexington KY of all places. They were really really yummy. After dinner we scooted upstairs to a smokey jazz bar over the restaurant for a late night of listening to some really mellow improv jazz and talking with the musicians. They were all old and kinda crusty and sorta sounded like a cross between Tom Waites and Louis Armstrong. The air was heavy with smoke (not just tobacco) and the smell of alcohol and other interesting fragrances from the restaurant below us. That was about 35 years ago. No smokey jazz bars around anymore :( I think I feel a short story comin' on!!!!

Very informative article. I've not yet tried escargot and I don't think I would be anytime soon.

Good and informative. Only yesterday I jokingly told some French friends that I'd like to invite them to dinner as I had too many garden slugs. They really have been a nuisance here this summer (the garden slugs and not the French friends!)

We have a delicacy of edible snails caught in the rivers back in the Philippines. Mixed up with coconut milk and chilli green or red peppers make it a truly tempting treat. Slugs are another story.

Enlightening facts about meningitis, thanks.

There was an incident in Australia in the early 70s where some college-age kids ate live slugs on a 'hazing dare' for a small monetary wager, and several of them contracted meningitis for their efforts. One of the group did swallow the live slug but quickly vomited it up, and s/he narrowly escaped illness.

Eeek! People try to eat these?!?!?!?!

What happens if you eat home grown veg which could have had snail or slugs crawl on it...? I washed it a few times in salt would this be enough? Help ,
This may as well be written about how no one should ever drive, due to the dangers associated with automotive accidents. Most of the food we buy at commercial grocery stores arrives unwashed and contaminated with bodily wastes from various insects and other crawlies; people aren't dropping dead every day from food bought from grocers. This "article" is just shameless fearmongering. The author should be ashamed.