Wild Mushroom Warning: The Scaber Stalks (Leccinum species) May No Longer Be Considered Safe
One of the nifty things about mycology (the study of mushrooms) is that the field is still largely unexplored, new finds and findings turn up all the time. This is a less-nifty thing about mycophagy (the eating of mushrooms, particularly wild mushrooms). It too is still largely unexplored, and new information about bad reactions turns up — not all the time, but frequently enough. Here’s the latest from our resident mushroom expert.
On July 14th, I received a call from New England Poison Control Center at Maine Medical center. An elderly man was in a New Hampshire Hospital with a severe, life threatening, illness contracted after eating Mushrooms. No specimens were available for imaging, but there were only two mushrooms involved, both Boletes. One was described as a ‘King Mushroom’, possibly in the Boletus edulis complex. The other was probably a Leccinum. Both identities were initially determined by two of the mushroom eaters, all of whom were self described as “good, knowledgeable mushroom collectors”
Two of the three people who collected and ate the mushroom developed GI symptoms three to five hours after the meal. One of them, an adult woman, sought treatment at the emergency room for her distress that evening. The elderly man, developed GI symptoms somewhat later, did not go to the hospital and felt a general malaise the next day. The third person, an adult man, had no symptoms at all.
Three days after the meal the older man was admitted to the hospital in poor condition.
Among other symptoms was a very low platelet count which led to the leakage of blood throughout the body. His skin was covered with bruises. He was bleeding from the brain and various internal organs. In addition he had very low sodium levels. Surprisingly, there was no liver damage.
Due to the severe and odd symptoms, a multi-person conference call was initiated, and Marilyn Shaw, who has considerable experience with Leccinum poisonings, was invited to participate, along with a MMC’s Toxicologist, the attending Physician, and MMC’s poison control specialist. . Members of the family were interviewed over the phone and their initial identifications of the mushrooms were accepted/confirmed as appropriate. The conclusion reached was that it was probably the Leccinum which had inititated the cascade of events leading to the man’s critical condition.
Leccinum have traditionally been described as one of the Boletes safe to eat, but this case illustrates a growing concern for this group. Toxic reactions are known/thought to have been caused by Leccinum (Tylopilus) eximius, L. atrostipitatum, L. aurantiacum, L. scabrum/insigne.
Recently, the Rocky Mountain Poison Control Center has noticed a great many cases of GI distres caused by members of the Leccinum scabrum/insigne group. (see Lincoff. Audubon Guide to Wild Mushrooms, p. 579)
Many field guides describe these as edible, but in light of the growing number of cases involved, many of us who work with poison control across the nation are now advising mushroom collectors to avoid the Leccinum group when collecting for the table. They are a notoriously difficult group of mushrooms to identify.
I will be preparing an illustrated lecture on this topic for the Mid-Hudson Mycological Association but thought this warning should be circulated now at the height of the collecting season.
Within the past decade or so the orange-capped Leccinum aurantiacum has been reported to often cause Gastro-Intestinal distress. Its flesh will slowly bruise wine-red, then gray to purple-black. (see Lincoff, p. 577) This one was found at a NEMF Foray, identified by trained mycologists and displayed for attendees to learn from.
Tylopilus (Leccinum) eximius can also cause severe Gastro-Intestinal distress.
Update: Bill’s follow up article for consulting mycologists and the scientifically inclined has now been posted on Dianna Smith’s Mycology website.