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Funny Fungi-Poison Mushrooms Can Kill

Updated on June 18, 2012

Fatal Fungi

Sautéed, broiled, grilled, cooked; there are dozens of ways to enjoy mushrooms. Spending the night in the ER after eating them is NOT the preferred method! Many fungi lovers get exercise and fresh air while seeking out and picking their own wild mushrooms. But this can be deadly for the person who is not familiar with these edible and often toxic mushrooms. Even some experienced ‘Shroomers mistake toxic mushrooms for edible ones.

One of our best known and beloved authors almost died after eating poisonous mushrooms that he and his wife picked. Nicholas Evans wrote the bestselling novel The Horse Whisperer which was made into a blockbuster movie starring Robert Redford. He continues to write and attends speaking engagements all over the world. However, now he must build his schedule around kidney dialysis. Both Mr. Evans and his wife, Charlotte, are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant after eating poisonous mushrooms.

Every mushroom hunter should be familiar with the three most dangerous groups of fungi, amanitas, false morels and little brown mushrooms (LBMS). Mushrooms in these groups cause most of the fatal mushroom poisonings in the United States. Amanitas alone cause 90 percent of mushroom-related deaths.

My old uncle (now deceased-don’t ask!) always said there are no old mushroom hunters. They always made a mistake and usually it was the Amanita that caused their death. But sometimes death is no accident.

Poison mushrooms have often been used by those who wish to be rid of undesirable people. One of the most infamous murders using poison mushrooms was Emperor Claudius. He was emperor in 41 A.D., and married Agrippina, after “disposing” her predecessor. Agrippina had a son named Nero from a previous marriage and wanted him to succeed Claudius as emperor. Agrippina persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero so he would be in line to become emperor. However, after the adoption, Agrippina devised a plan to kill Claudius. Claudius’ biological son should have succeeded him but Claudius chose Nero instead. When Nero was old enough to be emperor, Agrippina planned Claudius' death by preparing his favorite mushroom, Amanita caesarea, which was a favorite of the Roman nobles. But, the mushrooms were laced with the juice of Amanita phalloides, the Death Cap. The next day suffering the first symptoms of the poisoning, Claudius called Xenophon, his personal physician who had actually put the poison into the dish! Xenophon used a large dose of colocynth, an extract obtained from Citrullus colocynthis , Bitter Apple, which contains a toxic alkaloid. The poison has a bitter taste so it was administered as an enema so that Claudius would not detect it. Both of the toxins combined and Claudius died. Then Nero became emperor of Rome.

The poison was the same mushroom mentioned previously. One cap of the Amanita, also called the Death Angel, can kill a man. And it is a painful and agonizing end which usually leaves the victim grateful to see the end! I wonder if Claudius figured out this twisted plot before he succumbed.

There are too many varieties of toxic mushrooms for this one article. I recommend the mushroom forager research the internet to educate himself before attempting to gather mushrooms. Just do a Google search for toxic or poisonous mushrooms and hundreds of pages will load. Additionally, I suggest you take an experienced “Shroomer the first couple of times you harvest. If this is not possible, take the mushrooms to someone who can check them out for you.

My brother used to gather mushrooms and has a lot of knowledge. But now that I remember, he was into hallucinogenic mushrooms. But that is a whole other Hub and I digress!

Here are some great links to get you started:


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