Foraging for food in the wild is growing more popular but don’t eat a wild mushroom unless you’re a fungi identification expert. The tragic death of a young woman in Somerset, UK after eating a poisonous death cap mushroom she found growing in her garden follows similar deaths & poisonings in Australia, USA & South Africa. There were poisoning deaths in California this month, 5 members of one family in Kwazulu-Natal in September, Melbourne in June and Canberra in January. Ohio has issued a general alert with 14 recent poisonings. Death cap mushrooms, Amanita phalloides, are commonly found near oak trees and often sprout after heavy autumn rain.
They look very similar to non-poisonous edible varieties common throughout Asia, so newer migrants from those areas are particularly at risk from incorrect identification. Ingesting even a small amount causes death from liver failure. Between 20% and 50% of those who eat death cap mushrooms die; the percentage is much higher for elderly victims.
The mushrooms apparently taste delicious and posioning symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea only begin 12-16 hours after eating. Death occurs around a week later as toxins accumulate in the liver and kidneys.
Paradoxically, German cancer researchers have been using death cap toxins coupled with an antibody that recognises and targets cancer cells, delivering the deadly toxin to only those specific cells. It’s still in the petrie dish at this stage but it shows promise as a future treatment for pancreatic cancer.