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Jul 17, 2008 05:18 AM

Women Dies After Eating Poisonous Mushrooms

Unfortunately, a women near where I live, died the other day from eating poisonous mushrooms. I would NEVER trust myself to pick mushrooms out in the wild, but I was curious if there were others who do pick and eat wild mushrooms? How do you know you are picking edible ones? Like snakes, aren't there those that look alike, one is poisonous, the other isn't?

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  1. Yes, I've picked them most of my like and have never once been ill. I grew up in Pa & NJ picking w/ Russian grandfather uncles and father. Did not pick in New Mexico. Took course in Norway and picked. Picked w/ Finnish friends in Finland. And pick lots on our property here in Maine. I only pick about a half dozen of certain species and know poisonous look-a-likes. The white aminita, Destroying Angel, grows 20 yds. from where I'm typing. It is such a no brainer not to pick, a white flag warning. Ya gotta know what you're doing! I'm more fearful of environmental pollution, food additives, and the processed food culture of modern American society than picking my own mushrooms.. Too bad it has been so dry, I've suddenly got a hankering to go picking!

    11 Replies
    1. re: Passadumkeg

      Pass and I know each other and I think eating wild mushrooms have affected a good way ;-)
      I, too, pick wild mushrooms but I joined a 'shrooming club and have three books. I/we never take chances and like many things, there are rules you don't break. I would never eat more than a nibble if I had any reservations whatsoever about what I wa trying and I usually err to the side of passing on it entirely. Also a basic tenant is you don't eat any wild mushroom raw.
      As I understand it, it is a real problem for foreigners who come here, and pick and eat a look-alike to what they were used to eating in their homeland.

      1. re: Scargod

        Tex, don't even nibble! Some in the aminita family can sicken one just through handling.
        I just returned from walking the dog in the forest behind the house and looking for mushrooms- too dry. This post struck a chord about how far American culture has become removed from nature. Small children are poisoned from eating the leaves of common decorative INDOOR house plants, and kids and pets buy the big one from eating decorative garden plants.
        Local fine restaurants use locally wild picked mushrooms and advertise the fact.
        At the Union Square Farmer's Market in Manhattan, people line up to pay $200 a pound for The same Chanterelles that I pick behind my house and tha I picked in Norway & Finland.
        The ignorant picking of wild mushrooms is like drunk driving; stupid, dangerous and potentially lethal!

        1. re: Passadumkeg

          You say that some mushrooms, (aminita family) can make you sick just by handling them. Is this a fact or is this an urban myth? Is there some information about this phenomena on the web? That seems counterintuitive, but obviously there are poisons that can be absorbed through the skin, so it may be true. I have just never heard that before.

          Add: This web site says it is not possible.

          1. re: Servorg

            I am not an expert, but an expert told me that some (edible) mushrooms have the same chemical that is a component in rocket fuel. I would say that it (or others), could be absorbed if it was one of those mushrooms that have this chemical, which cooks off when heated in the cooking process. A chemical, or poison, could be on your skin from handling and injested if you transferred it to food or licked your fingers. Just supposition...I have no idea of levels of toxicity, etc. and, don't forget, it is a fact that one person's edible mushroom is another's cause for serious discomfort.
            One of my brothers is allergic to snails..

            1. re: Scargod

              From my reading on line it looks like the only possible danger would be "contact dermatitis", which while bothersome to those who suffer from it would not place anyone in danger.

              Unless someone else has some scientific evidence to the contrary this looks like myth and anecdotal stories passed around.

              1. re: Servorg

                uh, no-- i think that's a real true caution wrt possibly toxic mushrooms and a perfectly acceptable safeguard technique, quite as appropriate as setting off in a watercraft with enough floatation devices for every person aboard.

                most mushroom experts rec handling unknown mushrooms with gloved hands and putting them directly into plastic bags away from the rest of the harvest (imagine standard procedure for collecting doggie doo for safe disposal, in a baggie, while at the same time carrying a sack of groceries to your home). the spores of amanitas (not aminitas) are very poisonous as well and eating a very small amt can severely damage the liver and central nervous system-- hence not wanting to contaminate the rest of the edible mushroom basket with spores and toxic mushroom traces, and the old wives tale which admonishes children not to handle "toadstools," for example fly agaric:


                from peter jordan's website, a nice reference for mushrooming: http://www.tastymushroompartnership.c...

                Use a disposable glove (or put your hand inside a small plastic bag) if you're picking ANY fungi that might be poisonous. Put used gloves/bags in the throwaway bag with the tissues you used to clean your knife.

                1. re: soupkitten

                  The assertion in question, and what I posted about, was whether or not a toxic mushroom could actually transmit enough of that toxin across the barrier of your skin to make you sick. It had nothing to do with the possibility of cross contamination from poisonous to non poisonous varities.

                  As far as I can determine, the answer is no, (folklore to the contrary). The reason I doubted it was possible in the first place was that our skin is a very effective barrier in keeping out things we don't want running around in our bloodstream.

                  And flotation devices are "scientifically" proven to help keep your head above water. Which is why you should bring them along on even that two hour tour aboard the SS Minnow.

                  1. re: Servorg

                    well that's great then. we agree that handling toxic mushrooms alone can't make you sick. it's just when you handle toxic mushrooms that could possibly cross-contaminate edible mushrooms, baskets, tools, etc, or when the handling could possibly dislodge invisible, airborne & floating, highly toxic spores that could get into the body through any of several mucous membranes including the nose, eye, mouth, etc, that you might have problems possibly including liver/kidney failure, paralysis, cardiac/respiratory failure, nausea, vomiting, 2-6 hours of severe pain with no permanent damage to tissues or organs, destruction of red blood cells, rhabdomyolysis, and/or death. . .

                    i really don't think that anyone who has a good basic knowledge of how the toxins in a few wild mushrooms actually work, would say that it's a good idea to handle them. i would say that handling toxic mushrooms, or suspected toxic mushrooms excessively, or ever with your bare hands, is a very BAD idea. this is not any sort of disrespect/gotcha to you Servorg, i am not trying to be a dick-- i think we are both on the same team as far as trying to dispel some of the fear of the unknown with regard to wild mushrooms. indeed many wild mushrooms are harmless, edible, delicious, and in every way enjoyable on a number of levels. but i will vociferously say that *some* wild mushrooms can freaking *kill* you, kill you in ways that are ***not likely to be medically treatable***, and these mushrooms must be respected and preferably *not* messed with at effing ***all***-- very, very seriously!!! for real-- my heart on my sleeve, no ego-- if you don't know what the mushroom at the rest stop is, don't eat it or handle it. puhleeze, with all earnestness-- don't mess with the dang mushroom if you don't know what you are doing.

                    here is how one of the amantins-- a group of at least 8 toxins ***named after the poisonous mushroom family amanita***--(not aminita)-- works to freaking *kill you*, and it is exactly what would have killed the lady referred to by the op. the scientific name for the destroying angel mushroom is Amanita virosa.


                    humbly submitted, your servant & friend, --sk

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      I think that "floating" toxic mushroom spores caused by handling (and it wouldn't make any difference if you were wearing latex gloves or not when you handled them as far as airborne spores are concerned) are not a danger. I have never seen anyone using or recommending a commercial fume hood or a personal respirator to handle wild mushrooms. If the airborne spores were that dangerous then that would certainly be a sensible precaution. Even with the possibility of cross contamination you are going get rid of surface bits by washing your mushroom or any other vegetable that may have come into contact with them, before cooking them. And finally, I buy all my mushrooms at the market. I am undoubtedly at more risk of being run over by a commercial mushroom delivery truck while driving to the market than I am of being killed by ingesting them.

                      1. re: Servorg

                        Just for future reference to others who come across this thread, here is the best website I found about the various types of toxic mushrooms and their effects after ingestion.


        2. re: Scargod

          The part of it being a problem for foreigners is very true. I live in a part of the US that has a large SE asian population. A few years ago, an entire family fell ill after eating soup made from mushrooms picked at a city park. They ended up being in the Aminita family. I believe 7-8 people were treated at hospitals around the city. At least one of them later died. 2 were treated at the facility were I work, and I cared for one of them. It is not pleasant, there is a lot of pain involved with mushroom poisioning, and the treatment is very complex and (obviously) it is not always enough. Some of the people who do make it through need liver transplants, or live the rest of their lives with severely damaged livers, which has its own whole set of implications. So yeah, don't pick your own unless you really know what you are doing. In addition, I think that during deadly mushroom seasons (spring/fall here) cities with large immigrant populations need to do more to educate the population on the dangers of mushroom foraging (send out flyers or have survivors talk about their experiences in the local press that caters to that population)

      2. I've been picking wild mushrooms for at least 30 years. I know a few edible varieties that really cannot be mistaken for anything else unless you're an idiot. So I stick to those - period. I once went out mushrooming with a woman who picks commercially for restaurants. She introduced me to a mushroom that I wasn't familiar with, so I began picking those as well. However, when I did some research, I learned that it could easily be confused with a poisonous variety and I stopped picking them. I don't know how she has the nerve to sell them to restaurants - you'd be in SUCH deep doo-doo if someone died...

        In short, it's safe if you're knowledgeable and conservative. This is not a pastime for risk-takers. There's just no room for error.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Nyleve

          I agree, but it's not the risk-takers; it's the ignorant. How many people sky dive or scuba dive w/out knowledge?

          1. re: Passadumkeg

            You're right. I was being gentle.

            One more point, though. I've found that even with safe, non-poisonous mushrooms one person may have a toxic reaction, while others can eat them without any problem. And this isn't even just people who have any known food sensitivity. Example: I can eat ANYTHING. I mean ANYTHING. But one teaspoon of cooked puffball - just about the most benign and recognizable mushroom you can find - will cause me the kind of grief I'd really rather not describe here. My husband can eat them until the cows come home. On the other hand, I can happily devour a plateful of a mushroom that we refer to as "pine mushrooms" (has a complicated scientific name, of course) but this same mushroom will cause my husband the same kind of reaction that I'd prefer not to describe. It's very very individual. I don't know why - it just is.

            1. re: flourgirl

              According to the Diver's Alert Network, there were 76 scuba related fatalities in 2007 in the US and Canada, out of many thousands of dives made, and with over 4 million certified divers in the US alone:


              In other words, as DAN notes, fatalities in scuba diving are rare. Your risk of death while driving to or from the dive site is much higher than your risk of death while diving. I do not think that a knowledgeable, trained diver who is in good or even reasonably decent physical condition (a number of those fatalities were a result of heart attacks while in the water, and DAN also notes in another report that over 50% of the few divers that died in the US and Canada in 2006 were either obese or morbidly obese) is participating in an inherently 'very dangerous' activity when diving.

              That said, I don't know how many people die from mushroom poisoning every year, so wouldn't think of comparing the two activities in terms of risk. My sense is that mushroom picking can be done safely, but should only be done if one is very well-trained and quite knowledgeable. My friends who pick mushrooms have long been active in the Mycological society and get a lot of training and info there. I haven't been mushroom hunting with them (hiking up the sides of hills in damp weather in rough terrain never appealed, it sounds a lot tougher than scuba diving :-)), but I don't hesitate to eat the mushrooms they've served me after their hunts.



              1. re: susancinsf

                I'm starting a new dare devil sport. Sky dive w/ scuba equipment while eating wild mushrooms! I survived Viet Nam and working as a uranium miner, what an irony it would be to kick from what I pick. Think I'll take the dog for a walk and look for more myco gold.
                ps I used to scuba dive in the Baltic and took 1 parachute jump (My brother literally pushed me out of the plane.).
                Carpe diem!

            2. re: Nyleve

              Yes I gather,with very conservative care it can be done.

              Yet here in DC last week an entire family was taken to the hospital in critical
              condition.The grandmother made stew,picked a plant at the front door(townhouse) used it in the stew.Next ems,saddest of all was the ID lag.
              Pesticides ? plant ? what ? turned out to be JIMSON WEED,pretty easy to
              ID.No one considered the pictures in a toxic plant book might be useful until
              the 2nd day.This is a very good reason for care and caution,help may just be too late. Ditto passadumkeg & nyleve

            3. My Russian-born wife (and just about every other Russian we know - which is a LOT of people!) are avid mushroom foragers and have never taken a bad bite. Unlike with southeast Asians, the types of 'shrooms that grow around here are exactly the same ones they grew up with, the local forests here in New England being much the same mix of trees as Northern Europe.

              As Nyleve does, they stick to the ones they know, mostly the more common boletus (porcini), chanterelles, chicken-of the-woods when they can find it, and a handful of others. When in any doubt at all my wife turns to her mushroom guide book. I've come to really enjoy hunting for them, but would NEVER eat one without her OK'ing it first.

              1. It can be scary even if you DO know what you're doing. Some years ago now, a friend's son died from eating a poisonous mushroom, and he was an experienced mycologist!

                1. Too sad and too true about the Asian immigrants eating our dangerous look-alikes. I met a man who ate one that he picked while out in a local park and cooked up with dinner that night. Three weeks later, he woke up in the hospital with a new liver and several hundred thousand dollars in medical bills.

                  I'm too chicken to try finding my own. I rely on my local grocers for fresh or purchase dried mushrooms

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: weezycom

                    Considering you can CHEAPLY buy spores nowadays and inject them into a log, or put them into a small bag of soil or a big bag if you wanted, and grow mushrooms for weeks or months, isn't that a much better way?

                    Even people in apartments can do that. Or is it really the thrill of the hunt, than? My DH had a relative die from eating a poisonous shroom as well. I won't eat local mushrooms on menu...I hire local help. I know what they make an hour. No thank you. lol