“Webster dictionary defines mushroom as an enlarged complex above ground fleshy fruiting body of fungus that consists typically of a stem bearing pileus; one that is eatable.”
Hardly sounds appetizing when put like that, but eatable mushrooms are sought after all over the world, from world famous chefs to novice mushroom hunters who scour the woods for the tasty little things.
I’m not here to offer tasty recipes or give expert advice on how to find the morsels in the woods. I’m here to keep you from killing yourself and possibly your loved ones by eating the wrong type of mushroom. My approach may be different, or considered wrong by some, as most instructions on the net teach how to locate, identify and harvest edible mushrooms. But I sometimes view the world through rose colored glasses and figure if I can educate you on what NOT to do, the to do will take care of itself.
There are big problems with identifying poisonous mushrooms as they are common and some resemble popular species which are edible. There are thousands of types of wild mushrooms native to just the United States, much alone the entire world, and at least 250 have been identified as severely poisonous. Science has grouped these known types into 8 different categories based on the chemistry make-up of their toxins and the symptoms they elicit.
Let’s look at identification of deadly mushrooms, how their poison affects our bodies and what to do if we accidentally digest the wrong type.
For sake of simplicity, if at all possible, most of the mushrooms described will be called by their most common known label. I tend to believe to identify anything by its scientific name only confuses people. They will never remember it and trying to figure out Latin can be very distracting. I’m a simple boy.
We may as well begin with the worse. The Amanitin mushroom is the most poisonous mushroom in North America, and possibly the world, causing more deaths than all other mushroom poisonings combined. Death Cap, Destroying Angel, and Deadly Galerina
have all been discovered to contain the same dangerous toxins, therefore equally deadly.
Symptoms of poisoning:
Usually symptoms are not detected for six to twenty four hours after eating the mushroom. This delay only compounds the serious of the matter as the body has had plenty of time to completely absorb the toxins. This delayed reaction makes diagnosing the cause of illness quite problematic unless the medical professional is informed of the possibly of mushroom poisoning. The initial symptoms will mimic those of typical influenza or a stomach virus, which may include nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea. In many cases these symptoms are severe in nature, violent vomiting, bloody diarrhea or acute bending over in pain cramping.
Knowing these symptoms and knowing the normal time span they appear should be a red flag to you and incite a quick response to seek medical attention. Be sure to gather a sample of the mushroom species you ingested, or at least take several close up photos. This will aid in identifying the type of toxins that need to be treated.
Do not play macho man and attempt to push through these pains and symptoms hoping there is nothing seriously wrong. There is … deadly wrong. The symptoms will subside and you will have a period of apparent improvement which will last @ 24 hours. At this point the liver and kidneys will begin to fail, you may fall into a coma, death will normally follow. Deaths like this have occurred after a patient has been misdiagnosed and discharged from the hospital, which is another reason why taking a sample to the hospital is so critical.
Unfortunately, even when the patient is successfully treated and lives, most victims still suffer permanent organ damage that will haunt them the rest of their lives.
Fortunately this is the most common mushroom poisoning and least damaging. Generally mushrooms contain numerous varieties of protein and amino acids which can cause mild to severe gastrointestinal irritation. (Severe stomach ache)
Many types of mushrooms contain these toxins including, but not limited to;
Several types of blue-staining, orange to red pored boletes
Symptoms of this type of poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains and will normally appear within an hour or two after ingesting the mushroom. Most cases are mild in nature, but can become acute in some. The symptoms will subside once the body has digested the meal and gets rid of the bothersome amino acids. Be cautious of young children or elderly adults as this illness could result in dehydration and low electrolytes in the body. Medical attention is advised and take any uncooked mushroom specie with you for investigation.
It must be noted, the severity of the symptoms are dependent on the individual’s sensitivity to amino acids. There may be no symptoms at all.
A few species of mushrooms contain this specific toxin which can produce terrifying symptoms, which could include, distorted vision, profuse secretion of tears, salivation or sweating. You could develop difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. The old faithfuls … nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are typical.
Symptoms will normally appear quickly, usually within 30 minutes and last about 24 hours. Atropine is the normal treatment for this type of poisoning.
Mushrooms containing muscarine include, but not limited to;
Blue-staining & orange to red pored boletes
Mycena pura and several species of genus Inocybe.
Ibotenic Acid, Muscimol and Isoxazole Derivatives Toxins:
There are several types of wild mushrooms which contain these toxins, most notably the Fly Agaric and the Panther mushroom which induces severe symptoms. The person may experience delirium, appear intoxicated, display manic behavior, they have a tendency to perceive small objects as huge. Some will want to have intense physical activity, unable to sit still, while others may fall asleep, usually experiencing extreme visions.
The toxins primarily affect the central nervous system and may induce confusion, a feeling of great strength, delusions or convulsions. Symptoms appear somewhere between a half an hour to two hours after ingestion and may last for up to 4 hours. There is no treatment for the poisoning, as it is temporary and leaves no permanent damage. Do not treat with atropine, a normal medical treatment, as it only exacerbates the symptoms.
Gyromitrin/Monomethylhydrazine (MMH) Toxins:
Gyromitra, Helvella, Verpa, and other closely related poisonous mushrooms are extremely dangerous. MMH is a substance used as a propellant for rockets. That’s right … literally rocket fuel. It is produced when gyromitrin is gently heated, which causes the MMH to interfere with the body’s normal utilization of B6, which affects the body’s ability to metabolize amino acids.
Symptoms will begin to occur 7 to 10 hours after ingestion, with the victim having a feeling of severe bloating and will experience abdominal pain and diarrhea. Deaths from liver failure have been recorded in severe cases.
MMH is highly carcinogenic and victims have been known to complain of severe headaches. Some mushrooms contained within this classification also contain gyromitrin toxins for which there is no known anti-dote.
Unbelievable some people still eat these type of mushrooms. Cooking methods include the process of boiling, rinsing, boiling and rinsing again and again as this seems to reduce the toxins to an acceptable level for consumption. However, cases have been recorded where the chef will become violently ill inhaling the fumes from the boiling pot.
Just what I’d like to try. Of course people, primarily Japanese, eat the deadly puffer fish. Everyone to their own.
Coprine: Toxic or Not
Several types of mushrooms contain the amino acid coprine, which reacts intensely with alcohol in the human body. Here’s the rub… technically coprine by itself is not poisonous and does not create negative affects on the body, it’s only when combined with alcohol that the symptoms of intoxication are exacerbated. Instead of a little drunk … you are really drunk.
There is usually a 30 minute to 2 hour delay after consuming alcohol, or ingesting coprine, before symptoms appear. The person may experience increased pulse rate, headache, rapid breathing, dizziness and perhaps nausea.
Here’s another kicker. Coprine may stay in the body for up to a week, therefore a person ingesting coprine toxin on Monday, may have a drink of wine on Thursday and experience the severe intoxication as if they’d just eaten the mushroom. Explain that to the wife, claiming you only had one drink but can’t walk straight.
For some people, hunting, harvesting, cooking and eating wild mushrooms have become a yearly pilgrimage into the woods. I encourage the activity and enjoy mushrooms myself, but be careful. Know what you are eating and if there is any doubt as to the type, poisonous or not, Do Not eat them. Getting sick is one thing … incurring permanent organ damage or worse, isn’t worth it.