Picking and ingesting wild mushrooms can be a dangerous sport. A newbie might even take a picture with them to identify the ‘shrooms and still end up getting it wrong. Here are the stories of people who wished they could tell one mushroom from another and the mushrooms that tried to kill them. Sometimes they succeeded.
See the list of ten mushrooms to watch out for.
Cortinarius speciosissimus (Deadly webcap)
Think of a tasty meal with with sauteed Chanterelle mushrooms prized for their flavor. A guest goes out into the yard to pick these tasty morsels knowing they grow in the forest and ends up sending everyone into renal failure with one misguided meal. Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer, had one such event he sure wishes he could take back. An avid mushroom hunter, Mr. Evans had been finding and preparing wild mushrooms for many years. On a visit to his brother-in-laws house he did what he does and picked some mushrooms he thought were Chanterelles and delighted everyone with one of his home cooked meals until the next day when everyone ended up sick and in the hospital with renal failure. What Mr. Evans picked in error was Cortinarius speciosissimus (say that three times fast), a poisonous mushroom (Link 1) which scourges the victim with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and back pain all why destroying the kidneys. The toxin in this itty-bitty hell raiser is orellaine which is nephrotoxic and can lead to acute renal failure. (Link 2)That’s exactly what happened to three of the four people who ate dinner that night. Lady Louisa Gordon Cumming dodged a bullet by eating only a little bit of the mushrooms. Good timing on wanting to be polite to a guest but sticking to a dislike of mushrooms or whatever kept Lady Louisa from chowing down. Nicholas and Charlotte Evans along with Sir Alastair Gordon-Cumming, Charlotte’s brother, all three need dialysis and the gentlemen who ate the mushrooms heartily are in need of a kidney transplant. Luckily, none of the children in attendance wanted anything to do with this fungus and are all fine.
Amanita bisporigera (Destroying Angel)
In Cleveland, Ohio, a wet summer created a sprouting of mushrooms including the Destroying Angel. By July of 2013, Dr. Pierre Gholam (Link 5) at University Hospital’s Case Medical Center had treated 24 people for poisoning by mushroom. It was confirmed that many of them had eaten the poisonous Amanita. While all 24 victims survived (so far, fingers crossed) the hospital pointed out there is typically a 25 percent death rate. As of yet, there is no official antidote for mushroom poisoning in the United States but these victims might have hit the jackpot since University Hospital is participating in an active study of Silibinin, an antidote used in Europe. The killer about this mushroom is liver failure. Symptoms can hit from six to 48 hours with gastrointestinal issues while attacking the liver all the while until someone needs a liver transplant. Lucky patients, anyone deemed sick enough by the doctors received the trial antidote and have shown no signs of permanent liver damage needing a transplant. Dr. Gholam’s advice about mushrooms was “Buy ’em at the store.”
The False Morel kind of looks like brains lying close to the ground. Right off the bat that should indicate maybe they shouldn’t be eaten. Two to four percent of all mushroom fatalities are associated with false Morels. (Link 6) Eaten raw most Gyromitra are quite poisonous. Gyromitra esculenta contains gyromitrin, a hemolytic toxin which means it can destroy red blood cells. It can effect humans, primates, and dogs. As a triple whammy, it is toxic to the central nervous system and attacks both the liver and gastrointestinal tract. The amount of toxin can vary from mushroom to mushroom so one event may not put someone six feet under but victims have been known to eat the mushrooms several days in a row and end up eating themselves to death. (Link 7) For those who were able to pinpoint mushrooms were the culprit the mortality rate is reported at 15 percent with death about a week after consumption. One man in Michigan ate 30 cooked esculenta, ended up with liver failure, received a liver transplant and has given up mushroom hunting altogether.
Galerina marginata (Deadly Galerina)
Formerly known as Galerina autumnalis and used as a synonym, Galerina marginata contains the toxin α-amanitin. This mushroom can affect liver cells, the kidney and the central nervous system. (Link 8) All parts of the mushroom are poisonous though small rodents seem to be able to eat it in small doses. (Link 9) Mushroom hunters should keep an uncooked specimen of each type they pick in case of poisoning in order to assist doctors in treatment should the wrong kind of mushroom be ingested. Many don’t realize they’ve been poisoned because symptoms of abdominal cramping, violent vomiting, and diarrhea don’t usually occur until 10 hours after eating the mushrooms by which time many don’t associate the mushrooms with the illness. Because the symptoms typically have a one to two day remission kidney and liver damage can already be complete before any treatment takes place. In North America, during 2011 there were three cases of poisoning associated with Galerina marginata. One of the three cases resulted in death.
A fifty-two year old woman who ingested Russula emetica, which was identified by a friend, had such specific tracking of her symptoms we might wonder about the friend. Evidently, she vomited eleven times, diarrhea four times but took fluids and it resolved in a day. It was important to her that all knew no alcohol was involved as it was notated in the report.
Gyromitra brunnea (Gabled False Morel)
The season for these mushrooms is late May to early June. The toxins can cause severe headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and blood poisoning. Its range is typically the Midwest and Northeast but as far South as Maryland and Tennessee. Gyromitra brunnea does not have reported deaths on the books but could easily be a culprit that has been misidentified so ingestion should be avoided.
Chlorophyllum molybdites (Green-Spored Lepiota)
In one year, 15 percent of the mushroom poisoning cases involved Chlorophyllum molybdites (Link 10). None of the known cases resulted in death but many were severe and required hospitalization. Left untreated the results may have been much worse. Eight cases in one year were reported by the Michigan Regional Poison Control Center in Detroit. Two separate incidents included mushroomers who thought they were eating Shaggy Manes otherwise known as Coprinus comatus. Mushrooms have similar names like Shaggy Parasol and Shaggy Manes. Mixing these up can be the difference in sickness and in health.
Omphalotus illudens (Jack o’-Lantern)
The North American Medical Association (NAMA) reported that one family consumed the poisonous Omphalotus illudens without getting sick but one, then, needs to wonder how NAMA found out about the mysterious “non-poisoning” event. Perhaps they asked the family to do it again to confirm the results. One father and son picked the Jack o’Lanterns claimed they had eaten them before but became ill this particular August with the son experiencing both nausea and vomiting but the father getting lucky with just the vomiting.
Basidiomycota (Little Brown Mushrooms)
Eating Little Brown Mushrooms is a bit like Russian Roulette. While some may say these are a pretty safe hallucinogenic mushroom estimations are that one percent of ingestions occur in death. Some symptoms- desired or not- are thirst, delirium, hallucinations, manic behavior, and stupor. Additionally, convulsions and death have been known to occur with the biggest concern being the heart stopping (which does usually occur at death). Since there are many kinds of mushrooms in the Basidiomycota phylum it includes some yeasts that are considered the fourth leading cause of death in AIDS patients in North America and Europe.
Dogs can, also, fall victim to poisonous mushrooms. Some eat the mushrooms growing in yards, parks, or elsewhere. A dog case in California is known that involved liver damage but whether the dog lived or died is unknown. The veterinarian reported the poisoning but not the final outcome. The Canadian government reports that Conocybe was most likely introduced to North America and Newfoundland through fertilizer from Europe. The report states that this mushroom is a danger to toddlers crawling in the yard (they will put anything in their mouths) and teenagers mistaking it for a good source of hallucinations. An eighteen year old girl fell victim to the Concocybe in British Columbia, Canada.