Village takes out pounds 5m insurance over hallucinogenic fruit found in garden

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The Independent Online
A LARGE stick was once a village farmer's best insurance policy against any mischievous youths who took a shine to his apples. But these days in the Northumberland village of East Cramlington only a pounds 5m public liability policy will do.

Volunteers who tend a community garden there have sought full protection after introducing a New Zealand kangaroo apple plant to their borders. Its small, dark green fruit look like plum tomatoes - but bear unexpected hallucinogenic properties similar to those of magic mushrooms. Alan Savage, who manages the garden, fears it could become a mecca for drug users.

"There's a high dependency on drugs around here and we were worried that addicts might come around for a nibble on the plant," he explained. "We have put signs around the plant, but children move them around and they can get covered in mud when it rains. I was worried that someone might eat it then have an accident - and we could be liable." He turned to the Royal Horticultural Society for his protection plan, which cost him pounds 37.

Mr Savage's Project 2000 community garden, funded by villagers as a way of marking the millennium, aims to incorporate species from every country in the world which sustains plant life. New Zealand's mind-bending representative solanum lasinetum, a close relative of the potato and part of the deadly nightshade family, was presented to Mr Savage by a local landowner. But it was only after reading about the plant that he learnt of the extent of its qualities.

"We want to educate people about how plants differ in different parts of the world. This plant is a member of the potato family - which may also make people believe they can eat it. If they do they will be in for a shock," he said.

Mr Savage has known some demand among local people to taste his plants before, however. The garden's North American toothache tree takes its title from the Native American Indians, who used to chew upon it for its anaesthetic qualities when they suffered toothache.

"When the local dentist closed for a few days I had a few locals who wanted to chew on it," said Mr Savage.

"I had to say no, of course. If everybody went chewing on it there'd have been nothing of it left."