As great as the appreciation that the edible mushroom receives from many people, the rejection from others is also great, either out of ignorance or out of fear of poisoning. When the mushrooms are often referred to as “the meat of the forest”, that is, from the mushroom picker’s point of view, a little exaggerated.
Recognize poison mushrooms
The pure nutritional value of the mushrooms is not too high and also varies depending on the type and age of the mushrooms. They do contain vitamins, but only in modest amounts. What is most valued about the mushrooms is their high taste value.
Unfortunately, apart from a thorough knowledge of the mushrooms, there is no means of recognizing poison mushrooms. Neither the color when cut, nor the milky juice or a milder or sharper taste are characteristics of edible or poisonous mushrooms. Snails’ eating spots are also no proof of their ability to be consumed, least of all the test with onions and silver spoons. The most poisonous of all mushrooms would pass this test brilliantly. There is only one way to protect yourself from mushroom poisoning:
You can only collect mushrooms that you know very well! Mushroom poisoning can only occur if this rule is disregarded, whereby we take it for granted that bad, old, rotten mushrooms are sorted out from the start and the flawless mushrooms are processed as quickly as possible, because the protein of the mushrooms is easily perishable.
The most dangerous poison mushrooms in Germany
The most dangerous of all toadstool mushrooms in Germany are the green and white death cap mushrooms, which are often confused with mushrooms, although the differences are obvious enough. The death cap mushroom develops from an egg-shaped tuber, the epidermis of which bursts as the mushroom grows and which ultimately remains in the ground as a lobed-edged sheath and is easily overlooked when it is collected. The cap and stem of the young cap mushroom are connected by a veil, similar to that of the mushroom. In the adult mushroom, when this veil has broken, the remains hang on the stem as a fine, ripened cuff.
The main difference compared to all types of mushrooms, however, is the color of the lamellas, the “leaves” and the underside of the hat. They are always and without exception white in the death cap mushroom, light gray-pink in the young mushroom, but soon bright pink and finally chocolate brown. In addition, the mushroom on the stem has at most a very indistinct, bulbous thickening, which, however, never separates itself as a sheath. The death cap mushroom only occurs near oaks or beeches, not in open pastures and meadows.
It is extremely poisonous, a single, even half a specimen can be fatal.
Poisoning by the panther mushroom is also frequent. It also develops from an egg-shaped tuber, but this remains of the tuber is better preserved than with the death cap mushroom. It looks like the stem has been pushed into the tuber. The panther mushroom has a lighter or darker brown hat, which is clearly grooved on the edge in fully grown specimens. Similar to the fly agaric, its hat is covered with white pustules. When the veil comes off the brim of the hat in the adult mushroom, the remains are still hanging on the stem as an indistinct cuff, but are smooth and never grooved. The stem is whitish.
Poison mushrooms in Germany, Austria and Switzerland
The panther mushroom is very often confused with the edible pearl mushroom, which is of a similar shape and has the same pustules, but which can also be washed off when it rains. The hat color is light red-brown to wine red, but often very pale.
In contrast to the panther mushroom, the edge of the hat is not grooved, but a clear, fine grooving on the handle of the cuff. In addition to the grooved cuff, the most important characteristic is the wine-red color, especially on the lower part of the handle, as well as the same color on snail-feeding spots and maggot burrows.
Poisoning with crack fungi is less common, but it is very dangerous. The brick-red crack fungus in particular has already led to many deaths. The individual species are difficult to distinguish. However, all of them are more or less poisonous and should therefore be avoided. The mushrooms are easy to recognize by their conical hat shape with the hump in the middle. The color can vary from white, yellowish to brick red. Old mushrooms are usually torn several times at the edge, hence the name.
A very insidious mushroom is also the spring lobster, which is wrongly called morel in many areas. It used to be believed that it was enough to pour off the cooking water as completely as possible to detoxify the fungus. Unfortunately, in spite of this treatment, fatal poisoning has occurred. The real morels, on the other hand, are all good edible mushrooms and are very popular as the first mushrooms of the year in spring. The Lorchel does not have a distinct hat, but a dark-colored head made up of irregular coils. The morel, on the other hand, has a flask or cone-shaped hat with more or less regular pitted depressions, so that they are reminiscent of honeycombs. Their color is usually lighter.
There are also mushrooms that are only poisonous when raw, but harmless when cooked. The well-known Hallimasch should be mentioned as an example. This is even more true of Krempling, which, eaten raw, has already led to many serious cases of poisoning and has therefore been excluded from sale.
The poisonings that are still most frequent and at the same time the most severe are caused by the tuberous leaf sponge, whose poisons are neither destroyed by drying nor by heat, but whose mushroom flesh is very tasty. Over 90 percent of all fatal mushroom poisonings can be traced back to this fungus.
Symptoms, Signs & Ailments
The time from eating the mushrooms to the first symptoms of poisoning is generally 12 to 24 hours. The later the first symptoms appear, the more poison the body has absorbed and the more severe the complaints and symptoms. The poisoning usually begins with severe vomiting and colicky abdominal pain. The patient shows bluish discolored lips with bad breath. He makes a dilapidated, seriously ill impression, but is still remarkably clear consciousness.
As a result of the considerable loss of water and salt, the amount of urine decreases considerably, which can lead to inability to urinate and ultimately to urea poisoning (uremia). Jaundice often occurs in the course of the disease and is to be regarded as a serious symptom of the onset of liver damage. If the outcome is unfavorable, there will be convulsive symptoms and unconsciousness, and finally death.
Causes & complaints
The cause of this poisoning is always the mushroom toxin Amanitin, which leads to severe damage to the liver, kidneys and circulatory system. Similar to chloroform, arsenic and carbon tetrachloride, Amanitin also causes immediate damage to the liver cells, which can often be so severe that a cure is no longer possible.
Already with the first initial symptoms of mushroom poisoning, nausea, choking sensation in the throat, nausea, and the above-mentioned symptoms is as soon as possible a hospital visit, because only by rapid medical intervention the lives of seriously ill patients can still be saved. Even the slightest delay can only worsen this outlook, because it is never certain in advance how much poison the patient has ingested.
In addition to the malignant, there are also the so-called benign fungal poisonings, which run as gastroenteritic diseases, i.e. in which the poisons only affect the gastrointestinal tract, similar to bacterial food poisoning. The signs of the disease, which at first appear rather stormy and can assume a threatening extent, usually subside after a few hours, at the latest the next day, without the characteristic severe damage to the liver and other internal organs occurring.
With the yellow-spotted mushroom, the false honey mushroom, the potato bovist and a number of other, inherently non-toxic mushrooms, such and similar clinical pictures can occur. In most cases, gastric lavage is sufficient if admitted to hospital early to prevent further complications.
Occasionally, though much less often, slight symptoms of poisoning occur after consuming edible mushrooms. However, this is often due to the fact that the mushrooms have been kept raw or cooked for too long. Decomposition symptoms then occur in the body, which in turn trigger symptoms of poisoning.
Fungal poisoning can cause very severe and serious complications for the patient. It is not uncommon for death to occur if the poisoning is not treated at all or not treated in time. For this reason, mushroom poisoning must always be treated by a doctor or a hospital.
It usually takes about a day for symptoms to appear, making diagnosis late. This leads to abdominal pain and nausea, which is accompanied by vomiting. Not infrequently, the patients also suffer from diarrhea. The lips turn blue and the affected person also shows increased bad breath, which cannot be eliminated through increased oral hygiene.
In the further course, the mushroom poisoning can lead to unconsciousness and jaundice. If left untreated, it will eventually die in the next few hours. Whether the death actually occurs, however, depends on the amount of poison ingested and the lethal dose. In severe cases, treatment is given in a hospital.
There are usually no complications if this is initiated early. However, symptoms can persist for a few days. Life expectancy will not be reduced if mushroom poisoning has been successfully controlled.
When should you go to the doctor?
Mushroom poisoning can manifest itself through a variety of symptoms. A doctor should therefore always be consulted as a precaution if health problems arise after eating a mushroom dish. Digestive complaints such as nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhea are often in the foreground – even if these subside by themselves after two to three days, a medical examination is recommended: In the event of poisoning by the highly poisonous death cap, this first phase can be life-threatening after a temporary improvement followed by the liver and kidneys.
Other warning signs that indicate mushroom poisoning can include dizziness, light-headedness, visual disturbances, increased salivation and sweating. Circulatory problems, shortness of breath, balance disorders and a greatly increased or decreased heartbeat must also be treated immediately by a doctor. Certain poisonous mushrooms trigger states of intoxication, but also fears, aggression, depressive moods and hallucinations, which can last for a few hours: During this time, medical monitoring is useful.
Medical treatment is also necessary if, up to two weeks after eating a mushroom meal, you experience severe thirst, constant urge to urinate, muscle pain, chills and gastrointestinal complaints – these symptoms can indicate the onset of kidney failure due to fungal toxins. In combination with alcohol, some types of fungus can cause palpitations, reddening of the skin and nausea, but this usually does not require treatment.
Treatment & Therapy
As a first measure, emetics and laxatives are to be administered. If there is no emetic in the house, an attempt must be made to artificially induce vomiting by drinking plenty of warm water or, better still, by tickling the uvula with your finger or a feather.
The vomited stomach contents and the remains of the fungus must be kept in order to have them examined by an expert if necessary. Castor oil or Epsom salt or strong laxative tea are recommended as laxatives. Animal charcoal, which has the ability to bind toxins, is also a good remedy. You can also use finely ground, roasted coffee instead.
Under no circumstances should alcoholic beverages be consumed, as alcohol can dissolve some poisons even more easily and thus get into the bloodstream.
While benign mushroom poisoning becomes noticeable an hour to four hours after eating mushrooms, the symptoms of malignant mushrooms only appear after six to eight hours or even longer. As I said, they always require immediate hospitalization. It is even better if everyone behaves during the mushroom season in such a way that poisoning cannot occur in the first place.
Those who do not know the mushroom varieties very well are either not allowed to collect any or have to go to the mushroom advice centers that exist in all larger towns and also in many small communities. Here his mushrooms are examined free of charge by experts. The work of these people, who often work voluntarily, has already saved some from mushroom poisoning.
Outlook & forecast
Whether and how quickly a patient recovers after mushroom poisoning depends primarily on the causes. If mushrooms that were actually edible but spoiled or incorrectly prepared and only slightly poisonous were consumed, the prognosis for healthy adults is excellent.
The symptoms associated with mushroom poisoning, which are similar to a gastrointestinal upset, can be treated very well and usually subside after a few days without permanent health impairment. Those affected without any previous illnesses usually recover completely without medical help.
Convalescence can take a long time in older patients and people with poor general health, but these patients usually recover completely. On the other hand, severe, even permanent damage must be expected if a highly toxic mushroom, such as the Amanita phalloides, has been consumed.
These cases can lead to liver and kidney failure, as well as internal bleeding, which often leads to death. Surviving patients usually do not fully recover. Severe kidney damage can result in the patient being dependent on dialysis treatment for life. If the poison destroys the liver, the only way to save the patient is usually through an organ transplant.
Follow-up care for mushroom poisoning is only possible in a few cases. Rather, mushroom poisoning is about alleviating the poisoning as quickly as possible and helping the person affected by first aid measures. In the case of mild mushroom poisoning, no measures are necessary. Symptoms usually go away in hours or days. This applies, for example, to Coprinus syndrome or the effects of psilocybin.
In the case of severe poisoning by poisonous mushrooms, which also damage the internal organs – especially the kidneys are often affected -, on the other hand, extensive follow-up measures are necessary. Antidotes, other means of eliminating toxins and nutrients must also be given after emergency treatment. The patient has to be stabilized, as the circulatory system is also often affected. An observation for days in the hospital follows after the treatment.
In addition, it is necessary to monitor the functions of the internal organs after surviving mushroom poisoning. Damage can be detected early and medical intervention can be taken if necessary. Otherwise, there are further follow-up measures due to damage to the kidneys, the liver and due to a pathologically altered blood count. In very severe cases, transplants are necessary.
You can do that yourself
The most important self-help measure for mushroom poisoning is prevention. If you are not able to identify at least highly toxic varieties, you should not eat mushrooms you have collected yourself.
If symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, or muscle spasms occur after eating a mushroom dish, you need to act quickly. Real mushroom poisoning is not always present; edible mushrooms that are edible in and of themselves are often just spoiled, which then amounts to food poisoning.
The latter is usually harmless. Since real and fake mushroom poisoning show very similar symptoms at the beginning, caution is advised and a doctor should be consulted. It is essential to refrain from home remedies. In the event of mild symptoms, the family doctor should be consulted.
In the case of more severe symptoms, on the other hand, you must go to the nearest hospital immediately or inform the poison emergency center. It is also important to collect leftovers from the mushroom dish and bring it to the hospital so that it can be determined which toxin harmed the patient.
The poison emergency centers strongly advise against resorting to supposedly rated home remedies or causing the person concerned to vomit. In the event of acute poisoning, the patient should instead be taken to the hospital as soon as possible.