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The Fungus Among Us— Avoiding Poisonous Mushrooms
Posted on Wednesday, October 05, 2011 by eNature
Fly Amanita
Fly Amanita
© Onderwijsgek, CCSA 3.0
Destoyring Angel
Destoyring Angel

With all the rain the East Coast has received in the past month from assorted hurricanes and tropical storms, mushrooms have been popping up all over.  And as you might expect, there’s been a sharp increase in reports of people poisoned by eating wild mushrooms. 

When we recently tweeted the blog entry below about dealing with poisonous mushrooms, it ended up being one of our most popular tweets ever.


Mushrooms are among the most mysterious of life forms. Some kinds are edible—and delicious. Others cause hallucinations and other psychological and perceptual effects, and have been used in spiritual rituals. Many species are unstudied, their ingestibility unknown. And a number of species contain dangerous toxins, many of which are not yet fully understood.

Every year poison centers and emergency rooms treat people who have been poisoned or made ill by mushrooms. These range from people taking “magic mushrooms” for their hallucinogenic effects to gourmands who have tragically misidentified a species to toddlers who have swallowed mushrooms growing in the backyard.

Unfortunately, no simple test can determine whether a mushroom is edible or poisonous. The only way to be certain is to positively identify the species you have found. Only experience can teach you to recognize characteristics that differentiate edible species from poisonous ones, and with some species you cannot be too careful. Some mushroom hunters will even examine a mushroom’s spores microscopically to be sure their identification is correct.

In short, before you eat any wild mushroom, check every possible feature and clue, consult field guides or scientific literature, and be 100 percent sure of proper identification (consulting experts if necessary). Only those who truly know what they’re doing should even consider eating wild mushrooms. If any doubt remains about the edibility of a species, do not eat it.

Many mushrooms cause mild to severe poisoning, and only a few cause life-threatening illness. Some mushroom toxins affect the central nervous system, others the peripheral nervous system, and most cause mild to severe gastrointestinal upset. Some people react adversely to species that are harmless to most or to species that they have eaten before without ill effects.

Below is a list of mushroom toxins, some of the species that contain them, and a description of the symptoms known to occur. (This is not a comprehensive list of all poisonous mushrooms.) If you suspect you have mushroom poisoning, contact a poison control center (call 1-800-222-1222 or visit the American Association of Poison Control Centers website) and seek medical attention immediately. Bring along samples, preferably uncooked, of the mushrooms you have eaten.

Toxin: Amanitin
Mushrooms: Amanita species including A. phalloides (Death Cap), A. virosa complex (Destroying Angel), A. verna, A. bisporigera, A. ocreata; Galerina species, including G. marginata, G. autumnalis, G. venenata; Lepiota species, including L. josserandii, L. helveola, L. castanea; and Conocybe filaris.

Symptoms of this very dangerous toxin occur 6 to 24 hours (rarely 48 hours) after ingestion, typically in 10 to 14 hours. They include severe abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, lasting for one or more days. A short remission takes place, and the victim may believe he or she has recovered. By the third or fourth day, however, pain recurs, along with liver dysfunction, jaundice, renal failure, convulsions, coma, and without adequate treatment, death within five to ten days. With sustained medical assistance, recovery can take place in one to two weeks. Toxic amanitas have caused about 90 percent of all fatal mushroom poisonings, and 50 percent of those who ingest amanitin die. As a rule of thumb, do not eat any Amanita species, and be especially careful in identifying Amanita look-alikes or any other white mushrooms.

Toxin: Monomethylhydrazine (MMH)
Mushrooms: Gyromitra species, including G. esculenta and G. brunnea; and related Helvella, Verpa, and Cudonia species.

Symptoms occur 6 to 12 hours (rarely 2 hours) after ingestion. They include a bloated feeling, nausea, vomiting, watery or bloody diarrhea, abdominal pains, muscle cramps, faintness, loss of coordination, and in severe cases convulsions, coma, and death. With medical attention, recovery can occur within hours. The toxin, also known as gyromitrin, develops a compound similar to one used in the manufacture of rocket fuel. It is advisable to avoid ingesting any false morels.

Toxin: Orellanin
Mushrooms: Cortinarius species, including C. gentilis and others.

Symptoms occur 3 to 14 days (rarely to 21 days) after ingestion, and ultimately result in acute or chronic renal failure, which can result in death. A kidney transplant is sometimes required, and recovery can take as long as six months. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, thirst, frequent urination, and the sensation of being cold, accompanied by shivering. The seriousness of orellanin poisoning makes it advisable to avoid eating any “little brown mushrooms,” or LBM’s, that resemble Cortinarius species.

Toxin: Muscarine
Mushrooms: Clitocybe species, including C. dealbata and C. dilatata; most Inocybe species; some Boletus species.

Symptoms occur within a half hour and include profuse perspiration, salivation, tears, blurred vision, tunnel vision, abdominal cramps, watery diarrhea, constriction of the pupils, a fall in blood pressure, and slowing of the pulse. Although symptoms usually subside in 6 to 24 hours, severe cases may require hospitalization, and death has been reported in people with preexisting illness.

Toxins: Ibotenic Acid and Muscimol
Mushrooms: Amanita species, including A. muscaria, A. frostiana, A. pantherina.

Symptoms occur 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingestion. They include dizziness, lack of coordination, delusions, staggering, delirium, raving, profuse sweating, muscular cramps and spasms, hyperactivity, and deep sleep. Recovery usually takes place within 4 to 24 hours; some cases require hospitalization. Other Amanita species are implicated in most fatal mushroom poisonings, and it is wise to avoid this genus altogether. Be sure to positively identify any look-alike species before eating them.

Toxin: Coprine
Mushrooms: Coprinus atramentarius, Clitocybe clavipes.

Symptoms are precipitated by the ingestion of alcohol, as a substance in the mushroom inactivates an enzyme that detoxifies alcohol in the system. This effect can occur as long as five days after eating the mushrooms. Symptoms, usually occurring about 30 minutes after the alcohol is taken, include flushing of the face and neck, distension of neck veins, swelling and tingling of hands, a metallic taste in the mouth, palpitations, and a drop in blood pressure. Nausea, vomiting, and sweating may then occur. Recovery is spontaneous and usually occurs within 2 to 4 hours.

Toxins: Psilocybin and Psilocin

Mushrooms: Psilocybe species, including P. baeocystis, P. caerulipes, P. coprophila, P. cubensis, P. cyanescens, P. pelliculosa, P. semilanceata, P. stuntzii; Conocybe smithii; Gymnopilus spectabilis; Panaeolus cyanescens, P. subbalteatus.

These are the toxins that give hallucinogenic mushrooms their effects. The reactions that result from ingesting these mushrooms vary considerably; none should be eaten casually. Symptoms occur within 30 to 60 minutes, rarely as long as 3 hours later. They include mood shifts, which can range from pleasant to apprehensive. Symptoms may often include unmotivated laughter, hilarity, compulsive movements, muscular weakness, drowsiness, visions, then sleep. Recovery usually takes place within six hours. The victim should be assured that the symptoms will pass.

Miscellaneous Toxins
Mushroom: Paxillus involutus
Symptoms occur one to three hours or more after ingestion. They result from a gradually acquired sensitivity to the species, and include destruction of red blood cells, vomiting, diarrhea, cardiovascular irregularity, and possibly kidney failure. They usually disappear in two to four days, but can last much longer in severe cases and may require hospitalization.

Mushroom: Amanita smithiana
Symptoms occur 4 to 11 hours after ingestion, and include abdominal pain and diarrhea, followed by kidney or liver failure. These poisonings are not well studied. They resemble orellanin poisonings, but the onset of symptoms is much quicker.

Gastrointestinal Toxins
A large number of mushrooms can cause gastrointestinal illness. Symptoms occur 30 minutes to 3 hours after ingestion. They include mild to serious and severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Recovery can take several hours or days, depending on the species, the amount eaten, and the health of the victim. Hospitalization is sometimes required.

Some edible mushrooms are also known to cause occasional adverse reactions, even in people who have eaten them before without any side effects. Symptoms occur within 2 hours. They include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Recovery usually takes place within a few hours.

So to sum it up— stay clear of wild mushrooms unless you’ve got expert advice and guidance.  The stakes are too high to gamble with your health!

We’ve noticed lots of strange mushrooms recently here in the mid-Atlantic.  And have had to keep the dogs from eating them…

Are they showing up in your neck of the woods?

North American Mycological Association website »



Here in New Jersey, one of the most common causes of mushroom poisonings this year (and in past years) has been the Green-spored Parasol (Chlorophyllum molybdites). It’s an almost exact lookalike to the edible Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) which is very common in Europe (and is also found here in the US). Extra care must be taken when eating any of the so-called Parasol Mushrooms, as the results can be tragic. (I personally don’t recommend that anyone should eat a wild mushroom unless they’re well-versed in mushroom ID, and that does NOT mean relying on Uncle Gus from “the Old Country”.) The edible Parasol is best distinguished from its poisonous cousin by taking the time and care to make a spore print and by taking close note of the pattern on its stem. Its spores will be white to a slight off-white (almost cream colored), whereas the spore print of the poisonous Green Spored Parasol will be green. (Do not rely on the color of the gills to determine what the spore print color will be or which mushroom you have.) The stem of the edible Parasol has a distinct snakeskin pattern on it, whereas the poisonous one has a white stem and lacks that pattern. Both mushrooms are usually quite large and bruise a reddish-brown color when cut or bruised, so those two features are not good ways to determine which one you have. There are also some small mushrooms (under 4”) that LOOK like parasols, but they must be avoided—- most of them are poisonous (see “Amanitin” in the article above).

As you can see, mushroom ID is more than just looking at pictures in a book. Take time to observe everything you can about a mushroom before pinning a fast identification on it, then consult the written descriptions in the books to match those characteristics—- and those should match 100%, not 99.5%, or whatever.

And most of all, abide by the wild mushroomer’s creed: When in doubt, throw it out!

Posted by Jim Barg on 10/5

I love mushrooms, but I do not understand why anyone would eat a mushroom that they are not sure if they are poisonous.
Is it worth the risk of getting sick or even dying just to taste them? Go to the market and buy safe ones.

Posted by Cindi on 10/5

There should have been pictures with the description of the toxins so that people could see what they look like and protect themselves, their children and their pets.

Posted by sharon on 10/5

Pictures Please! Info is minimal w/o pix!!!!!!

Posted by cantab on 10/5

PICTURES are not enough!!!! Do Not eat any thing that you do not Positivly Know. Iam an avid Shroom hunter .Ido not collect what I can’t identify.

Posted by jared haselton on 10/5

I became interested in wild mshrooms about 10 yrs. ago when I used to alot of hiking and hunting and fishing. I found one that was really odd and knew a guy who knew about wild mushrooms and hunted certain kinds each year. it was white and round and almost as big as a basketball. it turned out to be a puffball mushroom and I was assured it was non poisonous. I picked it and gave it to the guy who told me what it was and he gave me some of these other mushrooms that were even bigger called “hens of the woods” . I couldnt bring myself to eat them either. it had bugs on it and sticks that it grew around it as it grew . they are very popular here in PA. they are also known as Ramshead mushrooms . I even got a book from the national audubon society about them as I started finding more and more different kinds. Oyster mushrooms are also very common around here too. I found they like alder tree stumps.

But I just never could get myself to eat any of them. I never knew if some animal had used it as a toilet or not. and they just smell kinda funky. and not in a good way…

I was interested in them but had a wife and 2 kids who I would never want to eat them even if they were identified as edible.

  its a neat thing to hunt them and see them . some are really beautiful looking but from what I heard they are the most poisonous. so I just more or less “studied them” .

my advice is not to eat them unless you have someone with a positive identifying method. no matter how close they look like a good one mistakes can be made and its not worth dying for.

I buy shitakes and portabellas in the store and the regular white button kind. I saw on the history channel that PA. is one of the highest raisers of domestic varieties in the U.S. so Ill stick to them.

they have organized hunts thru penn state university around here but I never got to try it. Im sure this year its loaded with them. but Id rather be safe than sorry.

  their nice to look at but not worth risking your life over . unless a true expert identifies it.

Posted by exshroom hunter on 10/5

A favorite saying of my husband who is a mycologist - there are old mycologists and there are bold mycologists, but there are no old, bold mycologists.

Posted by taigou on 10/5

Well, I’ve collected and eaten the oyster mushrooms for years.  Both spring and fall.  They’re extra good because everyone else thinks they should eat only the morels and we can get more of ours.

Last year a friend gave me a part of a hen of the woods.  It was delicious.  I had never seen one before.  They’re huge.  I’d love to find one. 

But I hunt no more.  I’m 94.

Posted by Portia Cooper on 10/5

I was at Haymarket last Friday, and there was a guy that was selling “Hen of the Woods” out of his trunk.  It was a large, interesting looking mass of fungi, but I didn’t know the guy and certainly wouldn’t put my life in his hand. Aterwards, I was seeing this mushroom everywhere!

Posted by Teresa Strong on 10/5

The author of the article could put up as many pictures as he or she wants, but the fact is this: Most mushroom pictures are enormously deceiving and they can’t show everything you need to see on a mushroom to make a 100% correct ID. My advice is to get your hands on as many mushroom field guides (an excellent one is Gary Lincoff’s Audubon Guide to Mushrooms of North America…that may not be the exact title, but use “Audubon” and “Lincoff” as your key words) and check out as many reliable websites (, and are excellent ones) to help you with your IDs. And READ THE DESCRIPTIONS, don’t just rely on the pictures. But, be sure to consult with an expert even if you have the books or use the websites. Mushroom ID is an art and science based on CLOSE observation…in many cases, one small feature can distinguish a poisonous mushroom from an edible one.

Posted by Jim Barg on 10/5

I am curious about the possibility of adverse effects of merely touching mushrooms.  My son-in-law experienced some very disturbing feelings, sort of like a panic attack, a few hours after handling a large number of mushrooms of various kinds while hiking.  Could his unusual night have been a result of handling toxic mushrooms?  It is possible that he ate lunch without having washed his hands; never before had anything of this nature have happened.

Posted by M DeWitt on 10/5

50 some years ago my grandfather had some pasture land in Southern California with live stock on the property, this property was also adjacent to a river bottom. After rains or irrigation he would take me out to pick mushrooms. The only thing that I remember is that he would take the top of the mushroom and see if he could peal back the skin of the top of the mushroom and if so he said they were safe to eat. Anyone have any idea what type of mushrooms these might have been. We never got sick, but I never trusted myself after he passed away.

Posted by jeff silver on 10/5

There are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters but no old bold mushroom hunters. There are mushroom groups probably not too far away in most cases with enthusiastic members.( All you have to do is ask and they will be glad to teach you about mushrooms. Just don’t ask for directions to their secret morel patch!

Posted by S Fox on 10/5

Antler Rdige Wildlife Sanctuary will be hosting a open house on October 15th from 11-4 and will spotlight Jim Barg our local mushroom expert.  He will lead a intitutive walk about mushrooms.  for more information vist

Posted by kelly simonetti on 10/6

To M DeWitt,
There are no mushrooms so poisonous that you can be sickened by touching them, fortunately!  Even if you don’t wash your hands before dinner.  For more information visit the North American Mycological Association at

Posted by R Rader on 10/6

I never had mushrooms where I live until I started raising Alpacas,, now the mushrooms grow everywhere there poop piles are.

Posted by Steve on 10/6

The only ‘shroom I can safely ID is the Morel. There are others I’m pretty sure are safe but pretty sure isn’t good enough. Morels are fairly easy & I’ve been going to the same places to find them for 50 years.

Posted by Susan on 10/6

My husband and I have been hunting and consuming mushrooms for 20 years now.  We have neighbors that know the same mushrooms we do and we all rely on research from multiple sources and positive spore prints. We also limit ourselves to “shrooms” that have no obvious look-alikes here in New England. That leaves us only 4 or 5 species we can consume regularly. I advise all to proceed with caution and let proper knowledge be your guide. Check form and color, habitat, spore prints, smell. Once you are trained you will usually be rewarded with the same “good” mushrooms returning to the same beds season after season.

Posted by Therese Crayton-Ackley on 10/6

Yes, you should eat only those mushrooms you can identify.  Duh.  Only an idiot would eat fungus that he doesn’t know.

Still, this article is largely hysteria. Such fear-mongering dates back to when the priestly class realized that hallucinogenic mushrooms threatened their monopoly. Even now, many hallucinogenic mushrooms that are perfectly safe are still categorized as “dangerous.”

The fact is, 99.9 percent of mushrooms are safe.

This article almost have you believe it’s the other way around.

Posted by Steve on 10/6

I also agree that posting pictures next to each type would have been really helpful.

Posted by Sarah on 10/6

We eat morels, chicken mushrooms, giant puffballs, and hen-of-the-woods.  The hens are actually maitake, sold in supermarkets at $7.00 a pound.  I figure we’ve picked well over $200 this years, making soups, stews, stirfries, pizza, etc. with them, giving them away, and freezing five gallons for later use.  Never have we seen such a bounty of this species.  One mushroom expert and author says that any mushroom that grows on logs will not kill you and many like the hens and chicken mushrooms, are choice.  I agree that the Audubon guide is best of the six mushroom guides I own.

Posted by Marcia Bonta on 10/6

Does anybody know what causes a mushroom allergy? Once I figured out what was making me violently sick after dinner sometimes, the common link being mushrooms, I’ve avoided them. However once in a while they’ll sneak into something, like dried mushroom powder in a gravy, or asparagus that’s been grilled on the same surface as portobellos. Each time the reaction has been more severe, with vomiting, diarrhea, sirens ringing in the ears, then a rapid drop in blood pressure causing fainting. Have been trying to find out more info but don’t run into it much

Posted by Lynn Strough on 10/6

None of the mushrooms I’ve eaten were poisonous. They were all served in restaurants (I never cook with them at home) and nobody else got sick. I’m just wondering if anyone knows what it is in mushrooms that causes such an allergic reaction and if it’s common to all mushrooms.

Posted by Lynn Strough on 10/7

I agree that people over react to all the talk about dangerous muchrooms.  “Something may have used it for a toilet?”  Please.  People forget that everything they eat came from somewhere.  Just because it is all wrapped up and you get it from the supermarket doesn’t mean it wasn’t once out in the open air.  And fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly.  What you gather wild from the forest turns out to be cleaner than that spinach all sealed up in cellophane.  Still, don’t eat a mushroom if you don’t know what it is.

Posted by Barbara Bernhardt on 10/7

One year my husband and daughter became ill from eating the ( we thought to be ) safe, “honey ” mushroom. I had taken 2 college courses in mycology plus I’d asked my neighbor to identify the mushrooms and she is a botanist: before ingesting. I did not become ill and the explanation was that sensitivity to toxins is cross genetic. I spoke to my teacher and it had been reported several cases that year of poisoning from eating the honey mushroom. He recommended eating a small piece of a mushroom and waiting several hours for a reaction before thinking them safe to eat. Since fungi are constantly adapting some times the ones deemed safe can happen to not be—that’s all I’m sayin’. Take care—really know what you are doing—and even if you do, you could be taking your chances!

Posted by Jane Lloyd on 10/7

A couple of years ago I bought a book on identifying wild ‘shrooms and, filled with foolish hubris, picked something that looked like an edible Chantarelle. I put a piece of it in my spaghetti and ate it. I didn’t really notice any special taste but I didn’t die, anyway.

My leg DID fall off though.

Posted by Gerald Hjelle on 10/7

Anyone know anyone who has had mushroom poisoning?  My dad knew one, he is a kidney doctor and lots of the toxins effect your kidneys so he would know one.  But that is all I’ve heard of…

Posted by Cecilia on 10/8

I spent one really miserable night in the hospital after eating mushrooms that my neighbor had been eating.  I prepared my special mushroom steak sauce and was planning to eat it all myself when my roomate and her male friend came in.  I ended up sharing it with them.  We all spent the night in the hospital.  They put us in ajoining rooms and stationed a housekeeping person in the hall outside the two rooms.  We all became ill about 1 hr after eating.  We were given charcoal to absorb the poisons.  The most expensive meal for three I ever expect to hear of in this life.  Thankfully I did not eat all those mushrooms myself.  I might not have made it to the hospital.  I found out later that the neighbor who was an experienced mushroom hunter thought he had had the flu!

Posted by Ann Jay Bryan on 10/9

Thanks!  Just curious as I have had so many warnings about the
deadliness of mushrooms, but had heard so few actual complaints.
Glad you are OK and thanks for the story.  I guess I will continue to
be wary of all of the potentially delicious and deadly mushrooms I

Posted by Cecilia in Sweden on 10/10

LYNN S - please read DR.Coca’s book ‘The Pulse Test’. it may not be mushrooms. you can identify the specific ingredient by making your own chart
that optimizes your wellbeing for this lifetime.
easy read with surprise testimonial of triggers!
Google another idea -‘Muscle Testing’. each ingredient held in palm then arm strenght tested.
[ Does anybody know what causes mushroom allergy? Once I figured out what was making me violently sick after dinner sometimes, the common link being mushrooms…Posted by Lynn Strough 10/6. ] love all - Audrey

Posted by Audrey Goff on 11/2

I don’t know what causes mushroom allergy (I don’t have it) but I am interested to find out more about the nurtitional value of the two common mushrooms sold in supermarkets (the white ones and the brown ones).  I chop one up every morning into my eggs.  They give a very special flavor, but if they’re good for you too, well so much the better!

Posted by Barbara Bernhardt on 11/3

I once saw a giant stick covered with fungus in my backyard. There was a little glob of something, and I recognized it to be spider eggs. It was so cool. Next to the stick was the most beautiful web you could ever imagine. I decided to put the stick back in case the Momma came back! I walked away, realizing how lucky I was. The fungi probably went as insulation, to keep the eggs warm.

Posted by Misha on 11/8

Aloha dude! Where can I find more resources on this topic?

Posted by Ned Margo on 11/25
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