Saturday, August 07, 2010
A Cautionary Tale
I can never stress enough the importance of being absolutely certain you have properly identified a mushroom before eating it. Whenever someone who is starting out hunting wild mushrooms for the first time asks me which mushrooms they should learn about and try to find first, I always say the poisonous ones in your area. Only by knowing what all of the known poisoners are will you ever be certain about other IDs. Here is a basic but good guide for poisonous mushrooms in Missouri.
And certainty is the top priority. This must be followed with no exceptions. I've mentioned old adages before to help folks remember such as "when in doubt throw it out" or "white on white ain't right" referring to several deadly forms of amanitas. There even the old standard, "there are old mushroom hunters and bold mushrooms hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters."
However, these are just words and nothing hits home better than a good story. So here is one that happened almost literally in my own backyard (it was actually the backyard next door).
About a week ago my neighbor, who I have never really spoken to about mushrooms before, noticed some firm white buttons growing in her yard by the sidewalk. They were very fresh and smelled like the ones you see in the store and with a novices eyes, they even kind of looked like them.
She took them inside and googled "white mushroom." She read a few pages and compared pictures and since they looked a lot like the photos she saw, she figured they were ok to eat. With her dinner that night, she ate two nice sized buttons sliced up with her salad. I think but am not certain that she ate them raw. Another no-no in the mushroom world. Even if they were edible, they could have had bacteria which could have contributed to what was to follow.
About 4 hours later the symptoms hit which included very violent gastrointestinal distress. What she described was not pleasant. It was a perfect description of what Kuo refers to as Human Faucet Syndrome (basically uncontrollable movements out of both ends) as your body tries to get rid of the toxin. After a few hours of this, she eventually had her daughter call the paramedics.
I do not think that they IDed the mushroom, but based on the rapid onset of her symptoms they could rule out the more toxic varieties which usually don't show symptoms until 36 to 48 hours later. And the general course of treatment for the less deadly poisoning is to help the person get rid of what they ate, then they usually recover, which thankfully is what happened in this case.
However, do not think that just because a mushroom is only poisonous and not deadly it can't kill you. This particular mushroom has killed people before, mainly those who were really young, old, or sick. It also is known for several dog and cat deaths.
After talking with my neighbor, I asked her to let me know if she saw any more so I could try and ID them for her. She brought me these buttons a few days later. It was hard to ID these because they were so young.
I posted them on several boards and got a range of responses as to potential IDs, which goes to show how hard it is to ID something with just a few photos.
She finally brought over a large fully opened one and I immediately knew what it was, the infamous green-spored lepiota (chlorophyllum molybdites). Even experienced hunters have been tripped up by this one because it looks a lot like the parasol mushroom which is a tasty edible. The give away is the spore print which is green. Sometimes as they get older the gills turn green with the spores, but usually it is hard to tell just by looking and so a spore is necessary to be certain.
Bottom view (notice the green tinge to the gills)
I told her what she had eaten and how lucky she was that it was not something more deadly which also grows in her lawn and looks very similar in the button stage. The doctors had already warned her of these and after the ordeal, she has sworn off all mushrooms, so I don't think I need to worry about her eating anything else. Oh and did I say that she is a nurse.
It just goes to show how anyone can make an innocent mistake if they are not certain. Wild mushrooms are no thing to toy with.