Mushrooms are wondrous organisms that nurture the soil and, in some cases, our bodies. But not all mushrooms are safe to eat. As mycology makes its way into the mainstream, learning to spot which mushrooms are dangerous (if not, in some cases, deadly) can help you safely enjoy the fall foraging season. The first rule: learn to identify mushrooms and only eat those you know are safe. Make sure you know the poisonous mushrooms symptoms in case you ingest them by accident.
One of the challenges of deadly mushrooms is they can often resemble edible mushrooms, so do your homework and ensure that you know what you are eating. A rule of thumb to start? If you can peel the cap, don’t eat it. Don’t assume it is safe because you see an animal eating it. (Humans react differently from animals.)
These mushrooms are common in North America/Europe and can be dangerous to consume:
- False Parasol: This poisonous mushroom is the most commonly eaten poisonous mushroom on the continent. Eating this will cause severe gastrointestinal distress including vomiting and diarrhea.
- Jack-o’lantern: This orange-gilled mushroom (formal name: Omphalotus olearius) can look like chanterelles, so don’t be fooled.
- Sulfur Tuft: This common woodland mushroom grows in clusters, often in dead roots or rotting trunks..
- Common Earthborn Mushroom: While this can look like a common mushroom, it turns black inside.
- Deadly Galerina: Also known as the funeral bell or the deadly skullcap, these fungi have brown to yellow-brown caps and long white stems.
- Pholiotina Rugosa: This common lawn mushroom has a brown cap and releases highly toxic amatoxins which, yes, can kill you.
- Deathcap: They are usually greenish in color with a white stipe and gills. The name says it all.
- Destroying Angel (Amanita verna, Amanita virosa) Similar in appearance to the death cap, the destroying angel is another highly toxic mushroom that can cause severe illness or death if consumed. This mushroom can be found in the Northern Hemisphere and has a white cap and stem, making it difficult to identify.
- Fool’s Mushroom (Amanita gemmata) Another species of toxic Amanita mushrooms, the fool’s mushroom is found in temperate regions around the world and is easily confused with edible mushrooms. It has a distinctive yellow cap and white stem, but its toxic nature makes it one to watch out for.
- Green-spored Lepiota (Lepiota morgani) Native to North America, the green-spored lepiota is a highly toxic mushroom that can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms if consumed. It has a white cap and stem, making it difficult to distinguish from edible mushrooms.
- Angel of Death (Pantherina species) This toxic mushroom is known by several different names, including the angel of death and the tiger mushroom. It can be found in Europe and North America and has a distinctive brown cap with white spots.
The ability to identify your mushroom species can save your stomach (and your life). Resources like YouTube videos –this one from Old Man of the Woods, for example–are great starting points to get to know your fungi. His primer is straightforward and helpfully divided up into chapters, each one corresponding to the different mushrooms a budding mycologist and forager should learn.