Wild mushroom poisoning prompts warning from doctors
Specimens of Amanita bisporigera at varying stages of maturity collected from the fruiting patch where the patient and her husband had foraged. Inset shows the two-spored basidium, which is characteristic of the species. (Canadian Medical Association Journal)
Emily Chan, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Monday, July 13, 2015 12:03PM EDT
Doctors are warning food foragers not to eat unknown wild mushrooms after a woman had to undergo an emergency liver transplant, days after eating poisonous fungi.
In a case study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday, doctors detail the woman’s experience.
According to the study, the patient, an unnamed immigrant, first arrived in hospital after eating mushrooms she had foraged with her husband in a local park.
Her husband had previous foraging experience from living in another country, and mistakenly identified a Canadian mushroom as safe when it was actually poisonous.
About 12 hours after eating the mushrooms, the 52-year-old arrived in hospital with acute abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Doctors identified the mushroom she’d eaten as poisonous, and 36 hours after consuming the plant, the woman was transferred to an intensive care unit and placed on an on-call list for an urgent liver transplant.
Luckily, the patient received a healthy liver from a deceased donor and recovered from the incident. But doctors say her case serves as a warning about the dangers of eating wild mushrooms.
“My advice is that the general public needs to be aware about the dangers of ingesting the wrong kind of mushroom, and that poisonous and edible mushrooms can look very similar,” Corey Stein, one of the study’s authors, said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.
“It’s challenging even for mycologists (fungi experts) to tell the difference.”
Stein said the warning is especially relevant for immigrants, because poisonous mushrooms in Canada may resemble safe species in newcomers’ old countries.
Stein said foraging tends to be more popular in Asia and Europe, but the practice has become trendy in Canada in recent years, as city dwellers search for natural food options.
Foraging fans say the practice leads to natural and delicious dishes that taste far better than store-bought produce.
“There really is an inherent flavour of being closer to nature,” said Marion Kane, the chef at owner at Mad Maple Inn Marion in Creemore, Ont.
Speaking recently on CTV’s Canada AM, Kane said foraging can be a great way to elevate or inspire new dishes. But she also encouraged caution for new foragers.
“It’s really important to work with a local forager who understands what’s safe and not safe, and also the sustainable aspects of harvesting,” she said. “There are certain mushrooms that after a lot of experience that you’ll be able to recognize them, but definitely if you’re not sure, don’t touch them.
Stein said it is difficult to know exactly how many people get sick in Canada for after foraging. But statistics from the Ontario Poison Centre show Ontario and Manitoba received about 200 calls for possible mushroom poisonings last year.
Of these, most cases are not as severe as the one profiled in his study. Stein said the case study was most serious incident he’s seen in his four years of residency in Toronto.
For those interested in safely foraging, Stein recommended people do their research, look for a guided tour and understand the risks.
And when it comes to mushrooms, he said, “Anything from a store would be my recommendation.”