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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 him....in 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.

          http://www.ilmyco.gen.chicago.il.us/T...

          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:

                http://waynesword.palomar.edu/amanita...

                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.

                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha-am...

                    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.

                        http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~mow/chap40....

        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:

              http://www.diversalertnetwork.org/med...

              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.

              http://www.msafungi.org/

              http://www.diversalertnetwork.org/med...

              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

                  2. It's a very sad story... I wonder if the economic times were a factor in her deciding to forage mushrooms... I hope not.

                    I'm too chicken to eat any of the mushrooms I find around here.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: karmalaw

                      I'd be very suprised if it was an economic issue that sent the woman foraging for mushrooms. This is a cultural and, to a very great extent for me, recreational pursuit. To walk through the woods, listen to birds, see wildlife, enjoy the smells, observe the environment so intensely - it's really wonderful. And then to come out of there with a basket of delicious edible mushrooms, or any other edible fruit or plant, is just a wonderful bonus. It's only partly about the food, really. Of course it's tragic that the woman made a fatal mistake. I'd be very curious to know what, exactly, her error was. If she was just a novice mushroom hunter and picked the wrong thing because she didn't know better, I have some sympathy but she obviously didn't have the knowledge she needed for this activity. But there may have been another reason - unfamiliarity with local species or just a terrible horrible mistake. It happens. I'm not going to stop picking, but these stories are always a good reminder not to get too complacent.

                        1. re: michele cindy

                          A 'rest' stop, she picked the mushrooms at a 'rest' stop? Holy cow. Seriously.

                          I wonder who will be at fault?

                        2. re: Nyleve

                          good forgers are pretty vigilant. if there is any doubt about what kind of mushroom it is it's better to either just avoid the doubtful mushroom altogether, or to *dig* it up and store it in a plastic bag separately from the rest of the gathered mushrooms until positive identification, or a spore print, can be made and it can be identified. many toxic mushrooms can be identified by the remains of volvic sacs at their bases, so digging them or exposing their bases with a stick can help gatherers to avoid the nasty beasts.

                          if you know the seasons, habitats, etc of local mushrooms it can be immensely rewarding (& delicious) to forage them. mushroom gathering as a pastime has its risks, which a knowledgable forager can reduce by being careful and well-educated, the same as a careful, educated hunter or fisher can, with their very rewarding and delicious wild foods pastimes. people die in hunting and fishing accidents too (much more, it would seem, than mushrooming mishaps).

                          sounds like this lady made an assumption that a mushroom in ny was the same as a mexican look-alike, but it was in fact a destroying angel, which didn't get its name for nothing. you can easily identify destroying angels by the volvic sac, or its remains, and distinguish the d.a. from young puffballs by slicing it in half and looking at the structure of the mushroom. it's frustrating that this lady didn't know about these telltale poison mushroom signs, yet she picked something growing wild at a rest stop and ate it. i wonder what could have been done to prevent this. i don't want to sound like i'm blaming the victim, but see-- i wouldn't assume anything about mexican mushrooms, and wouldn't attempt to gather them or consume them on my own without the local guides/knowledge. . .

                          1. re: soupkitten

                            Let's compare numbers: hunting mishaps leading to death vs. mushroom mishaps leading to death. I don't think it even comes close. Agree with soupkitten - this was an avoidable accident that would never have happened if she had followed common sense foraging safety principles.

                      1. The best thing any would-be forager can do is to learn <a href="http://www.tracingpaper.org.uk/2008/0... plants and fungi are really dangerous</a> before attempting to find the tasty ones. Know your enemy and feel confident in enjoying the bounty of nature!

                        1. Just for the record, after this wet spell, mushroom picking has been great; eating 3 kinds of boletes and coral mushrooms. The aminitas and agarics are red flags and many I don't know I ignore. Wifie eats them with me, but 18 yr old passes.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                            Fabulous porcini picking yesterday but many wormy ones, unfortunately. The combo of warm weather and lots of rain is apparently good for bugs. Ah well, there are enough good ones that I can pick only those.

                            1. re: Nyleve

                              Gotta get out real early; the early bird gets the shrooms, not the worms!

                            2. re: Passadumkeg

                              On Sunday I was out picking berries, and even though I was 100% sure they were really blackberries, and raspberries, this thread kept coming into my head, what if I'm wrong? I really had to stop myself from worrying. Like i said I'd never pcik mushrooms, I'd be a basket case.

                            3. My dad always used to remind us when we'd be tempted to pick mushrooms in the woods:
                              "There are old mushroom pickers, and there are bold mushroom pickers, but there are NO old, bold mushroom pickers". Stick to what you are absolutely sure of. For me, that's the farmer's market!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: PrincessBakesALot

                                Which reminds me of my favorite saying on this topic:
                                "All mushrooms are edible. Some only once."

                              2. I picked 27 beautiful king bolets and 2 coral mushrooms this morning and made sauteed bolete omelettes for breakfast. Funny, I was thinking of this thread while picking. There were also a new crop of aminitas (destroying angels) and I walk along saying to myself, "Yum, yum dead, yum, yum, dead." Also got some beautiful champignon in the yard which I purposely don't fertilize, so I can pick the field mushrooms. Priorities, I guess.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                  Just picked many different mushrooms yesterday and found three or four edible varieties. Was just a little late on a huge find of Hen of the Woods or Sheep's head mushrooms, but found many bicolor boletes that were OK. They don't have a very strong flavor but the texture is great. As one mycologist said, " sauteing with a lot of butter will make most mushrooms taste good". There were several othe edibles out of the twenty different ones we found. Now, when it rains, is a good time for a walk in the woods! So and I are relative beginners but we have had instructions from professionals, have four books and don't take chances.
                                  Now, if I could just identify the one that looks just like a short, stubby, solid white penis! I also have smallish boletes that look like the outside of a slightly tan biscuit...

                                2. If you do not know exactly what you are doing when picking wild mushrooms, then you are asking for trouble. This is a direct result of her stupidity.