How to Know if a Mushroom is Poisonous

I am sure that you already know that you should never eat anything you find in the wilderness unless you can positively identify it as being edible. Identification however, is not always easy, especially with mushrooms.

Although I am going to try and do my best to explain what you need to be looking for, it is highly recommended that you buy a foraging guide for mushrooms in your area. A good local guide will include quality pictures of each part of both edible and poisonous mushrooms.

While there are smartphone apps available, I have yet to find one that works with 100 percent accuracy which in this case, could end up being fatal.

There are a number of different factors that need to be taken into consideration such as:

  • Appearance
  • Location
  • The season, and
  • The growing conditions

This is because some edible mushrooms have look-alikes that are toxic such as the green-spored parasol (Chlorophyllum molybdites). As a young mushroom it looks like the white button mushroom that you will have seen in the grocery stores. It can also be confused with the edible shaggy parasol.

You may have come across the following three rules before but they are downright dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing:

  1. If you can peel the cap easily, it’s fine. This is not true as the cap of the Death Cap is easy to peel.
  2. If they are growing on wood they are safe. This is not always true as some, like the Funeral Bell, are deadly.
  3. They are safe for humans if you see animals eating them. This rule is not true, many animals can eat poisonous fungi with no ill effects.

The Effects of Poisonous Mushrooms

There are three main effects of poisonous mushrooms which are:

  1. Hallucinations – some of the toxic mushroom species can cause hallucinations. Apart from hallucinations, other effects include confusion, muscle weakness, agitation, rapid heart rate and headache.
  2. Gastrointestinal illness – many poisonous mushrooms cause gastrointestinal illness, such as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhoea
  3. Liver failure and death – the Death Cap mushroom makes up for the largest portion (around 9 out of 10) of fungi-related deaths. Symptoms occur six to 24 hours after eating and include nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea. The toxin can fatally harm the liver and kidneys, and death can occur within 48 hours. This isn’t however, the only mushroom capable of this.

THE MOST NOTABLE POISONOUS MUSHROOMS IN THE UK

Image source: LovetheGarden.com

THE MOST NOTABLE EDIBLE MUSHROOMS IN THE UK

Image source: LovetheGarden.com

While it is impossible to know for sure whether a mushroom is completely safe or poisonous without the proper knowledge from a skilled mushroom forager, there are some good rules that apply if you are just starting out. These are:

  • Avoid any mushrooms that have white gills
  • Avoid those that have a skirt or ring on the stem
  • Avoid any mushrooms that have a red colour on the cap or the stem
  • Avoid mushrooms that have a bulbous or sack like base called a volva. Sure, there are some tasty fungi that may have some of these characteristics but it is much better to be safe than sorry.
  • Finally, as we mentioned right at the start, never consume any mushrooms unless you are 100 percent sure of what they are.

Some good websites to take a look at regarding edible mushrooms are WildFoodUK.com and ForagingGuide.com

   

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