Foraging for wild mushrooms can be a fun and rewarding pastime, but it can be deadly if not done correctly. There are numerous poisonous mushrooms in the UK, and some are so toxic that consuming just a small amount can cause severe illness or even death. In this guide, we will explore the dangerous world of poisonous mushrooms, how to identify them, and what to do if you suspect someone has consumed a toxic specimen.
Types of Poisonous Mushrooms in the UK
There are many poisonous mushrooms in the UK, but they can generally be grouped into four main categories based on the symptoms they cause:
- Protoplasmic toxins: These cause cellular damage and can lead to organ failure and death. Examples include the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) and the Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa).
- Neurotoxins: These affect the nervous system and may cause symptoms such as hallucinations, seizures, and paralysis. The Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) falls into this category.
- Gastrointestinal irritants: These cause severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Examples include the Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus) and the Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare).
- Other toxins: Some mushrooms contain toxins that don’t fit into the above categories, such as the False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta) which contains the toxic compound gyromitrin.
Identifying Poisonous Mushrooms
Identifying mushrooms can be challenging as many poisonous species closely resemble non-toxic ones. Here are some general guidelines for identifying toxic mushrooms:
- Check for an annulus (ring-like structure) around the mushroom’s stalk. Many poisonous mushrooms, such as the Death Cap, have this feature.
- Look for a bulbous base on the stalk. Some toxic mushrooms, like the Destroying Angel, have a bulbous base hidden under the soil.
- Examine the gills. Some toxic mushrooms have white gills, while non-toxic species may have brown or grayish gills.
- Note the overall appearance, habitat and smell. Familiarize yourself with the characteristics of both toxic and non-toxic mushrooms in your area.
It’s crucial to remember that these guidelines are only general, and some non-toxic mushrooms may share these features. Proper identification requires extensive knowledge and experience. If you’re unsure about a mushroom, do not eat it.
What to Do in Case of Mushroom Poisoning
If you suspect someone has ingested a poisonous mushroom, seek medical help immediately. The faster the person receives treatment, the better the chances of a positive outcome.
While waiting for medical help, take the following steps:
- Remove any remaining mushroom pieces from the person’s mouth.
- Keep the person as still and calm as possible to avoid spreading the poison through the body.
- Preserve any leftover mushrooms or their parts for identification by medical professionals.
Poisonous mushrooms in the UK can pose a significant risk to foragers who lack the proper knowledge and experience to identify them. Familiarizing yourself with the toxic species in your area and their lookalikes is critical for safe foraging. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and do not consume any mushroom you cannot positively identify as safe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you die from eating poisonous mushrooms in the UK?
Yes, consuming certain toxic mushrooms can be fatal. The Death Cap and the Destroying Angel are two species that have been responsible for deaths in the UK.
How can I learn to identify poisonous mushrooms?
Join a local mycology or foraging group, attend workshops or courses, and invest in a good field guide. Proper identification takes time, practice, and a deep understanding of the mushrooms in your area.
Should I try cooking a mushroom I’m not sure about?
No. If you cannot positively identify a mushroom as safe, do not eat it. Cooking does not destroy most mushroom toxins, and consuming even a small amount of a toxic mushroom can cause severe illness or death.