Tag Archives: “the blusher”

Three Serious English Poisonous Mushroom Incidents in 3 weeks

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com

01/09/2017

Deadly Webcap (Cortinarius rubellus)

There has been a spate of poisonings and near-poisonings involving wild fungi in England this August. That they happened in August is itself unusual – in many years the toxic species involved haven’t even started fruiting by now. This year the main fungi season has started early, and some species have been fruiting very abundantly, and this includes some of the most dangerous poisonous species. Combined with the ever-increasing number of people foraging for fungi in the UK, a spate of incidents involving poisonous varieties was probably inevitable. However, these incidents expose a persistent myth – a hangover from our long-standing mycophobia. The impression given is that fungi foraging is a dangerous pastime and even “experts” can get into serious trouble. This is simply not true, as anybody who really does know what they are doing will confirm.

The first case involved some fungi picked on Dartmoor about three weeks ago. It has not, to my knowledge, been reported in the national media, but the victim’s friend’s sister notified the

Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda)

foraging community via social media. She told us that the victim “knows his mushrooms”, and that he had offered his friend some too, but she had rejected them because they were too infested with insect grubs. The insect grubs wouldn’t have harmed her, but had she eaten the fungi then she might have died. The victim is currently in hospital, on dialysis, suffering from kidney failure and in need of a transplant. Within a couple of days, confirmation emerged of the species involved: the victim had mistaken a Deadly Webcap (Cortinarius rubellus) for a Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda). The discussion on social media immediately turned to how this could possibly have happened. How could somebody who “knows his mushrooms” have made this particular mistake? The answer is that this is simply not possible. Blewits are blueish-purple-grey, and while there are plenty of Webcaps which are a similar colour, one or two of which are indeed easily mistaken for Blewits, Deadly Webcaps are red-orange. The two fungi also have very different gills and grow at different times of the year – you wouldn’t expect to find a Wood Blewit in England before October, even in a year where everything is early. In short, this is precisely the sort of mistake a novice would make, not an experienced shroomer.

Thai Death Soup (photo by Stephanie Jayne Thomas)

The second case involved absolute beginners: two Thai ladies who had never been mushroom foraging before. They had encountered a local forager who’d been picking Blushers (Amanita rubescens), and they decided to pick some for themselves. What they didn’t know was that beginners and Blushers don’t mix well, because it is far too easy to mistake a Panthercap (Amanita pantherina) for a Blusher, and Panthercaps are dangerously poisonous. These two ladies were lucky enough to run into some people from Glamorgan Fungi Group, who, having noticed their bucket full of Blushers, asked them what they were doing. They offered to go through the collection, and check to see whether any Panthercaps had crept in by mistake. No Panthercaps turned up, but something far worse did. In amongst the Blushers were some Deathcaps. More than enough to kill not only these two Thai ladies, but most of their families as well, had they got home and made the wild mushroom soup they had planned. No experienced forager would have made this mistake either. (And I’m not even going to start on the state of this pile of mushrooms, ruined by dirt even without the lurking Deathcaps – what a pointless waste).

A third case emerged yesterday, reported in a local newspaper in Essex. Details are scarce, but what we do know is that an “experienced mushroom picker” who lives in Southend has eaten a Deathcap and has been “hospitalised for several days with severe illness”. It might be true that this was an experienced forager, but I simply don’t believe it. These stories get reported like this, both by the traditional media and on social media, by people who do not understand the risks associated with fungi foraging. Yes, it can be dangerous, but only if you are over-confident, foolish or complacent. “Experienced foragers” do not make these sorts of mistakes – only people who themselves do not know much about fungi make the claim that “even experienced foragers can easily make fatal mistakes”, and this includes both journalists and friends of victims.

Deathcap (Amanita phalloides), deadly but does not really look like either The Blusher or a Panthercap, regardless of being related.

Foraging for fungi is perfectly safe provided you take the time to educate yourself about the risks. The two species of fungi involved in these incidents are very well known, and have been responsible for countless previous poisonings worldwide. For any particular edible species, we know what you are likely to confuse them with, and how to tell them apart. The people who end up poisoning themselves (and their friends and families) are nearly always either beginners who didn’t understand the risks, people who are foraging in foreign lands with unfamiliar fungi, or people who made a very stupid mistake that could easily have been avoided. The truth is that people who do take their time, make a bit of effort to learn about fungi and then take a reasonable amount of care, do not end up eating any poisonous wild fungi.

If you want to learn more about safely foraging for fungi then there’s two things you need to two. The first is to buy a good book (mine came out last year, and is the most comprehensive and up-to-date book on fungi foraging in northern Europe).  For details see the link at the top of this page, or reviews on Amazon . The second is to go on a forage (for food) or a foray (just about mushrooms) with somebody who really does know what they are doing, because this greatly accelerates the rate at which you can learn.

Below are some photos of the fungi involved in the recent incidents, and some other of the “usual suspects”  and I’ll leave you with one other comment posted on social media a couple of days ago:

“Has anyone ever eaten a poisonous mushroom? I know they all have varying effects but is the worse that can happen sickness and or diarrhoea? I’m more up for trying mushrooms but my other half is really adamant unless we can know 100% what it is which I find hard as a lot have poisonous look alikes”.

The Blusher (Amanita rubescens), edible but looks like a Panthercap.

Panthercap (Amanita pantherina), poisonous but looks like The Blusher.

Fool’s Funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa), another well-known seriously toxic species, though rarely deadly.

Livid Pinkgill (Entoloma sinuatum), just about as dangerous as a mushroom gets without actually being deadly.

Deadly Fibrecap (Inocybe erubescens) (photo by Andrea Kunze)

 

Autumn arrives in Britain – It’s Mushroomtime…

07/09/2013

As anyone in rural areas of the north will not need to be told, yesterday autumn arrived in Britain, with a splash. The temperature dropped by about ten degrees in most places, and nearly everywhere had a very welcome downpour. We’ve just had the best summer since 2006, but it does now look as if it’s over. Hopefully (from my point of view anyway) there will be no repeats of the misplaced October heatwave we were subjected to in 2011.

7th September 2013, Sussex.

7th September 2013, Sussex.

It’s also perfect timing in terms of fungi. The first big flush of autumn species had just started poking their heads above ground in the last few days, and the change in the weather means they won’t get dried out and with a bit of luck they will start fruiting in abundance. Today was my first (advertised as) peak session with a group of foraging students, and it produced my first decent basketful of English wild mushrooms of 2013 (we are about 3 or 4 weeks behind northern Scotland down here on the south coast).

We found in excess of forty species altogether, and if I include a couple I found before the session officially started, the list of edible species found today is as follows:

Parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera), ruby bolete (Xerocomus rubellus), larch bolete (Suillus grevellei), bay bolete (Boletus badius), the blusher (Amanita rubescens), tawny grisette (Amanita fulva), brown birch bolete (Leccinum scabrum), blackening russula (Russula nigricans), rooting shank (Oudemansiella radicata), orange oak bolete (Leccinum aurantiacum), velvet russula (Russula violiepes), the miller (Clitopilus prunulus), blushing wood mushroom (Agaricus silvaticus), honey fungus (Armillaria mellea) and chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).

Now is the time to book if you want to go mushrooming with an expert this autumn! 🙂

Geoff

 

Blushers abound, but beware the lurking panther

25/08/2013

The mushroom season sometimes starts slowly, and sometimes bursts into life in a flash. The main action can start any time between the end of August and the start of October, but 2013 is shaping up to be a good one and an early starter. I held my first public session of the year yesterday afternoon (in Kent), and the results were very promising for such an early date. It was also very wet, which isn’t so brilliant from a picking point of view, but bodes well for the immediate future: yesterday’s deluge is likely to be the starting pistol for the bulk of the autumn species.

We did not find a vast selection of different groups of fungi. Instead there was a useful selection of many different species belonging to two groups: russula and amanita. This is actually quite helpful from a learning point of view, because it allows people to familiarise themselves with a particular subset of fungi rather than being overwhelmed with all sorts of unrelated and very different types. There were large amounts of one good edible species belonging to each group.  We also found a nice selection of other edible bits and pieces, including chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), pale oysters (Pleurotus pulmonarius) and common inkcaps (Coprinellus atramentaria). The good edible russula that turned up in quantity was the charcoal burner (Russula cyanoxantha), but since my last post was partly about an edible russula, I will dedicate this one to the other group.

The Blusher ([em]Amanita rubescens[/em])

The Blusher (Amanita rubescens)

Amanita is not a genus for foraging beginners. It contains the two deadliest species in the world (the death cap (A. phalloides) and destroying angel (A. virosa)), as well as the infamous, but beautiful and enchanting fly agaric (A. muscaria), which is both hallucinogenic and nauseating. The good edible amanita we found large numbers of yesterday is a close relative of the fly agaric. It is called “the blusher”, and it’s a substantial, common and very tasty fungus. It also contains toxins, but they are broken down by cooking. All parts of the mushroom must be heated to above 80 degrees for this to happen. I find this puts some people off, but it’s really no different to cooking chicken. The picture on the left wasn’t taken yesterday, but last week in southern Scotland on my way back down to Sussex, of blushers growing in the grounds of a service station by the M74 motorway. The name refers to the tendency of this mushroom to turn slowly pink, especially when the flesh is exposed to the air. This is one of the important distinguishing features, which is very important if you are thinking of eating it, because this species is all too easily mixed up with several other members of its genus, one of which is particularly similar and particularly nasty.

panthercap

Panthercap (Amanita pantherina)

And right on cue, the nasty lookalike appeared in the middle of yesterday’s session in Kent. The panther cap (Amanita pantherina) is another close relative of the fly agaric and blusher, and it contains similar toxins to the former, except considerably more of them. Panther caps are right on the border of being fatally poisonous – eat one or two and you are probably just going to have a very unpleasant experience, eat an unhealthy plateful of them and you might just die.

So how do you tell them apart? Panthercaps (left) do not “blush” like the blusher, and have more spiky and pronounced veil-remnants (spots) on the cap, and these are white rather than pinky-grey. They also have a different sort of stem base – the blusher has a bulb (volva) which merges neatly into the stem, whereas the panther cap has a “step” or rim around what is left of the volva. My advice is to do what I did: do not collect blushers for the pot until you’ve found and identified a panther cap.

Blackberries fruiting in profusion, end of August 2013.

Blackberries fruiting in profusion, end of August 2013.

Having had such a successful day yesterday, I decided to go out early this afternoon in the sunshine and explore some local bits of countryside in my new home town of Hastings. I ended up not quite where I intended to go, walking out on a wooden walkway that led to a viewing platform (a dead end) in the middle of a very large reed bed. On my way back to the woodland I’d intended to visit, I stumbled upon enough blackberries to keep me busy for the whole afternoon. It seems 2013 is going to be a bumper year for certain types of fruit. It is reportedly the best year in several for apples (and the tree at the bottom of my garden would appear to confirm this), and if this lot is anything to go by then it is also going to be a storming year for blackberries.

Watch out for those mushrooms – it is all about to kick off.

Geoff