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How to differentiate between an inedible mushroom and a poisonous mushroom

Updated on May 5, 2013

Mushroom picking is a task that should be carried out by professionals who are experienced and are trained to recognize various types of edible and non-edible mushrooms that exist in the wild. However, many do not have to worry about choosing a deadly or poisonous mushroom, as they do not go pick their own mushrooms from the wild. Instead, edible mushrooms are freely available in the supermarkets for the convenience of the consumers. Anyhow, knowing the facts related to edible and non-edible, especially regarding the poisonous mushrooms would enable anyone to avoid a catastrophe that may take place due to accidentally picking a wrong mushroom from the wild.

Not all mushrooms are edible and some mushrooms can even be poisonous.
Not all mushrooms are edible and some mushrooms can even be poisonous.

Varieties of mushrooms

According to statistics, there are about 10,000 species of mushrooms in the North America and out of which only 250 are edible while another 250 are poisonous. Thus, it is rather difficult to differentiate between the ones that can be eaten and the ones that should not be eaten in a clear cut way. However, to the trained eye and with a whole lot of experience, it is possible to recognize the characteristics of edible mushrooms and at least determine certain other mushrooms as ones that need to be avoided.

Poisonous mushrooms

The reason why untrained persons should not go mushroom picking is that the poisons produced by certain varieties of mushrooms can be debilitating or sometimes even be fatal. In general, there are four types of mushroom toxins. Among them, some destroy cells in the body leading to organ failure and certain others are neurotoxic meaning they can cause neurological manifestations including coma. There are some poisons that could cause gastrointestinal irritations and certain others which cause symptoms in the presence of alcohol in the system. Thus, symptoms such as excessive sweating, convulsions, hallucinations, depression, spastic colon, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps…etc would take place if poisonous mushrooms were ingested. However, if other types of inedible mushrooms are eaten, the only side effect would be its bitter taste or its unpalatable nature.

Helpful elements to recognize a poisonous mushroom

Although describing the variations that exist among poisonous mushrooms are beyond this hub and may be beyond the existing scientific knowledge, experts can look into certain parts of the mushroom in order to exclude the non-edible ones. Thus, parts of the mushroom such as the cap, stem, underside, flesh and the spore prints are useful in making the differentiation. At the same time, the color, appearance, shape, size and the smell could also be used in recognizing the right mushroom.

Some helpful tips on mushroom identification

Even though there are ways and means of detecting poisonous mushrooms to a certain extent, it is always better to leave the differentiation to a professional or a person with enough experience. If in doubt, the best practice would be to avoid such dubious mushrooms and stick to the ones that you know for sure as edible, which are available in the super market.


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    • pandula77 profile image

      Dr Pandula 4 years ago from Norway

      Thanks blueheron for your insight. I totally agree with you in that one needs a book with lots of photographs to identify the right kind of mushrooms, preferably made to a particular region. Otherwise, one needs to accompany someone with lot of experience.

    • blueheron profile image

      Sharon Vile 4 years ago from Odessa, MO

      Mushroom hunting is fun and interesting, but a person really needs a book--one with lots of photographs--to identify them. Any book you get on edible mushrooms should be specific to your area, since edibles from other places may closely resemble mushrooms that are poisonous in your area. Even if you are armed with a field guide with 200 photographs, it seems like no mushroom you find is ever an exact match for any in your field guide. I guess there are just too darned many species and varieties to cover them all.

      Probably the most useful information in the field guide is where it tells you which poisonous mushrooms are found in you region. Anything else is edible, though perhaps not tasty. I collected a huge bunch of what I thought were Chantarelles last fall--but found out later (after eating them without mishap) that they were not Chantarelles at all. I have never figured out what kind they actually were.

      Most people don't realize that you can collect mushrooms in the spring, summer, and fall. My area has lots of delicious fall mushrooms, especially, even though most people never collect anything but the morels, which appear in spring.

      I am in Missouri, so I use the book "Missouri's Wild Mushrooms," put out by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 5 years ago from USA

      I will definitely leave the mushroom picking to others! Wouldn't want to risk it. I was reading recently on another hub that composer Johann Schohert died of eating poisonous mushrooms.

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 5 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      I liked this hub for one major reason. I enjoy backpacking through the wilderness and you never know if you're going to be in a survival situation at some point. So knowing these kind of things in terms of eating and living off the land is awesome my friend! Good details and videos. Voting up and sharing.


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