Several thousand species of mushrooms are found across North America. Among them, only about 250 are considered significantly poisonous. Except Florida, which is too hot and Arizona, which is too arid, mushrooms are found almost in all the states in the USA. Many people have experienced discomfort and even death due to the consumption of poisonous mushrooms. Morel mushrooms are frequently confused with the toxic false morels, and chanterelle mushrooms are often mistaken for the toxic jack-o’-lanterns. Differentiating the edible ones from the poisonous ones can mean the difference between life and death. Here, we look at the mushrooms that you should stay away from and how to differentiate the edible ones from the poisonous ones.
Types Of Harmful Mushrooms
All the edible mushrooms of the Agaric family have pink, brown or black gills, a white cap and usually a stout stem with a skirt. Some poisonous mushrooms in this family look very similar. Once you are sure that it is an Agaric, smell it. Edible ones have a pleasant smell of mushroom, some with hints of aniseed or almond. The poisonous mushrooms smell unpleasant like chemicals, often like Indian ink or iodine.
The Bolete, Suillus and Leccinum families are easily identified as they have spongy pores instead of gills. If the pores are white, cream or yellow and the mushroom has no red on the cap or stem and does not turn blue when cut or bruised, it is an edible mushroom.
All Milkcaps exude a milky substance from the gills when touched. Since most Milkcaps are toxic, until you learn to identify the various mushrooms of this family called Lactarius, stay away from the mushrooms that lactate from its gills.
The Russulas, also called as Brittlegills, have very brittle gills and stems. There are various members in this family. While some are poisonous, some are delicious and some simply taste terrible. Identifying them without in-depth knowledge is extremely difficult. After ensuring that the mushroom is indeed a mushroom from the Russula family, some people taste a small piece to ascertain if it is edible or toxic. If it is hot like chili, then it is considered poisonous. An edible variety tastes pleasant.
The jack-o’-lantern is often confused with certain types of gourmet chanterelles. Chanterelle mushrooms are delicious and popular. The jack-o’-lantern contains a toxin called muscarine. This chemical causes diarrhea and sever cramps. Although they are not deadly, ingesting them will result in an extremely unpleasant experience and sometimes, even hospitalization is necessary.
In the Amanita family, all the mushrooms have white gills and spores. They grow from a sack-like bulbous structure called a volva. Only a few mushrooms in the Amanita family are edible. Most poisonous mushrooms in the UK belong to this family. The extremely poisonous Death Caps and the Destroying Angels belong to this family.
7. Little Brown Mushrooms
All the Little Brown Mushrooms (LBMs) on the ground look similar and are difficult to identify. While most LBMs are harmless, some can make you sick. Some even contain the same amatoxins as certain poisonous mushrooms in the Amanita family. So, it’s best to avoid all little brown mushrooms, as a mistake can prove to be fatal.
8. False Morels
False Morels include many different species that are often mistaken for the delicious and edible True Morels. Many false morels contain toxic chemicals that cause vomiting, dizziness, and even death. But, some people do boil and eat them with no apparent ill effects. It is best to learn how to identify the false morels.
Rules While Identifying Mushrooms
- Don’t touch mushrooms that have white gills, a skirt or ring on the stem and a bulbous or sack-like base called a volva. Many mushrooms of the dangerous Amanita family can be avoided by following this rule.
- Don’t touch or consume mushrooms that are red on the cap or stem. Many poisonous mushrooms, including the Fly Agaric variety, can be avoided.
- Using a mushroom guide book may not always help, as the appearance of a mushroom depends on the weather and the terrain it grows on. So, the picture in the guide book may look different from the actual mushroom.
- Don’t consume any mushrooms unless you are 100% sure of what they are. It’s best to consult an expert if you can’t identify the mushroom.
Effects Of Mushroom Poisoning And Treatment
Of 14 distinctive types of mushroom poisoning found worldwide, so far about 10 distinctive patterns of reactions to mycotoxins have been observed in North America. The consequences of making an incorrect identification about whether a mushroom is edible can be severe, sometimes requiring a liver transplant or even resulting in death.
Within 20 minutes to 4 hours of ingesting the mushrooms, people may experience nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea, which normally pass after the irritant had been expelled. Severe cases may require hospitalization. It may also cause visual disturbances, irregular pulse, decreased blood pressure, and difficulty in breathing. Extreme cases may result in death due to respiratory failure.
There is no generic treatment for poisoning due to mushroom, as each variety may contain a different type of toxin. If you consume a poisonous mushroom and feel the slightest discomfort, contact a physician immediately.