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Make sure you know your poison

Today I was looking at pictures and examples of some Mushrooms and Toadstools that can be found in the UK. They were showing a volunteer how to identify them for recording purposes and I basically listened in. The object was for the volunteer to travel around the local area identify what species they found, record the location and the size and then put the data onto a database.

So, armed with the book Kingfisher Field Guide to the Mushrooms and Toadstools of Britain and Europe we went to identify our fungi. It was very interesting. The experts were pointing out the identifying marks and identifying the fungi in a glance. As usual experts make it look easy and it is all down to experience.

You identify fungi by the;

  • Cup shape
  • Gills
  • Stem
  • Flesh colour

It was interesting and useful for me as I was interested in learning which mushrooms I could eat rather than identifying and recording the locations.

I did learn a few things;

  • Some of the growths can spread for large distances underground
  • You can have several different species in close proximity and they can cross contaminate each other
  • Even experts make mistakes
  • Deadly fungi look tasty

The issue I had was that I couldn’t tell some apart. The perfectly framed photographs were clearly identifiable but the physical mushrooms themselves were not so easy. It was difficult for even the expert to identify bits of mushrooms and the recommendation was to collect them whole or simply one species per basket. Don’t mix them up and if you were unsure do not keep parts. Putting a poisonous stalk next to an edible species can kill you.

I always thought that we could get by using the patch test. A small part of a mushroom can be put on the tongue and if it blisters or burns it is poisonous. However, it is not recommended for mushrooms as even a tiny bit of some mushrooms can kill you, damage organs and/or make you seriously ill.

I’m going for a scout around my location over the next few weeks and I’m going to identify each mushroom spot and take a sample, or a photograph, identify them myself first followed by getting each one positively identified by an expert.

In the meantime while we can I’m getting practice identifying them. Got to learn while we can.

4 comments to Make sure you know your poison

  • Ronnie

    And, even ‘safe’ species can have some pretty bad side effects for some people – An expert I know told me that a few years ago he cooked wild mushroom soup for his family and guests. One of the guests awoke that night and started screaming with hallucinations of giant insects crawling the walls and could not be calmed!

    Only happens to a few people aparantly, so was just bad luck. I guess its another thing thats best to find out about now rather than wait till after event.

    On a side note, deli-type shops here pay well for wild mushrooms…side line for you?

  • Skean Dhude


    I would guess so. It is a bit like many food allergies. Someone somewhere will have a negative reaction.

    I guess this reaction though is more with the ‘additional’ features of that specific mushroom.

    That would be fine until the first time a customer keeled over. I don’t quite feel that confident yet.

  • Sounds like an interesting project. I’ll admit, I’d probably have to study for a LONG time before I felt confident enough to take a bite. Though I’ve met people who might appreciate a few hallucinogens in their dinner. 😉

  • Skean Dhude



    Today I was told that the most common edible mushrooms in the UK are easily identifed and that it is better to identify the poisonous and the others won’t be that big a deal.

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