Look, but don’t touch. The aptly named Destroying Angel AKA Death Angel… and it was almost the death of me.
Good Food Revolution Health Warning:
Before we go any further, please do not consume any wild mushrooms unless you are 100% sure that it is safe to do so.
In Fact, don’t even TOUCH mushrooms that you aren’t 100% sure of.
Be sure to have an expert confirm the identity of any mushroom you find in the wild.
If you are in any way unsure, please err on the side of caution and live to forage another day.
All edible fungi MUST be cooked before ingestion… although with this particular example cooking does not diminish its lethality.
For over a decade or so I have observed that as a culture we are becoming less and less attached to the earth that supports us with each passing day, and indeed it was co-founder Malcolm Jolley’s and my own mutual concerns about this that led to the founding of Good Food Revolution way back in 2010.
Today, when we get hungry for protein, most run to the supermarket and pick up a pack of shrink-wrapped meat, seldom giving a second thought as to how that meat got to the grocery shelf. And so, with a view to getting closer to the source of my food than most would be comfortable with, I decided in the fall of 2016 (mere days after the US election – no coincidence there) to learn how to hunt.
Running in parallel to my new found interest (read: midlife crisis) came a related passion for self-sufficiency that upon occasion flirted with the concept of survivalism. Being a voracious information sponge, I gorged upon mountains of books and websites, and in my deep-dives I read over and over again that if the world did really fall apart and one had to live off the land, it wouldn’t be big game that one would be surviving upon, it would be the smaller critters: rabbit, hare, squirrel… and in the case of another month’s piece, the lowly frog.
Last month we looked at my first foray into the world of foraging for wild mushrooms with the Chicken Of The Woods.
These were really a revelation, so much so that I have ordered some Chicken Of The Woods spore plugs to insert into fallen trees around our property, looking to spend the next few years with a reliable harvest. [Postscript: they don’t bloody work at all… utter rubbish – Ed.]
Last Saturday I was at my in-laws’ farm and was rooting about the fields there for forgeable plants.
I stumbled upon a medium-sized white mushroom that I hadn’t previously come across since becoming interested in them over the past few months. It looked wholly unremarkable, but nevertheless I was interested in its identity.
Picking it up without gloves, I took several pics for my records and for a mushroom identification app (which I don’t trust in the slightest). I threw the mushroom away and wiped my fingers on my shirt, thinking nothing of it as I rarely put my fingers anywhere near my mouth or face, making a mental note to thoroughly wash my hands when I got back to the house.
On the way back our son handed me some red clover he had foraged for me to taste… and I used the same fingers I had had picked up the innocuous white mushroom with … this was a big mistake, but this didn’t occur to me until around six hours later.
I must have had some residue of the white mushroom either on my fingers or under my fingernails, as six hours later I began to feel thoroughly odd. And it was at this point I began to realise that I was extremely sensitive to the family of toxins collectively referred to as Amatoxins, perhaps more than most, as I must have ingested a mere morsel of the fungi.
I started to sweat, feeling horribly dizzy and nauseous with mild aural and visual hallucinations… and then I began to suffer from what can only be described extreme gastric distress, feeling as if an alien, or indeed a veritable hive-mind of extremely agitated XX121 xenomorphs, was about to burst asunder from my embattled intestinal tract. My body wanted to get something out of it and it was going to use the nuclear option, just to be sure; whatever I had taken was being told in no uncertain terms that it was not welcome within.
Trying to research all of this online whilst experiencing some pretty terrifying symptoms was causing me considerable mental anguish, and this wasn’t helped at all by the hallucinations. I mean, I wasn’t tripping balls or anything, but something was going decidedly wrong with my cognitive functions. This went on for some time.
Perhaps I should have called 911 immediately, but something stopped me from doing that.
It happens that the mushroom in question, the Destroying Angel/Death Angel/Fool’s Mushroom (Amanita bisporigera), is one of the most toxic of mushrooms found in North America, and indeed the world, and along with the closely related Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) is responsible for a staggering 90% of mushroom poisoning fatalities due to them both containing the aforementioned Amatoxin toxins. Eating half a cap is more than enough to kill you apparently… but how much could I have possibly consumed? Not much. And yet here I was…
I think the most terrifying thing to read while in this sorry state was that before the six-hours-later gastric stuff kicks in all the irreparable damage has already been done to your liver and kidneys. Great. So at this point no amount of activated charcoal or saline drip was going to save me.
Crap, I really should wake up my partner and have her call an ambulance… but I didn’t want to be a big freaking drama queen, as I am unfortunately oft wont to be.
But then I passed out.
I completely blacked out.
I distinctly recall my eyelids getting heavier and heavier and thinking “Oh shite… here we go…”.
Obviously I did wake up, or I wouldn’t be writing this now, and you would have read a pathetic obituary how some foolish food/wine writer had fatally poisoned himself through eating toxic wild mushrooms.
Now, it wasn’t the worst that I have felt by any means, but being in a great deal of pain and mildly hallucinating, reading all this stuff while being unable to sleep was very unpleasant indeed. I didn’t quite feel myself again for around five days, And the whole experience scared the absolute crap out of me. I can assure you that I spent those days basically inhaling capsules of milk thistle.
Moving forward, I’ve decided to follow the advice of a veteran forager, and stick with studying one mushroom for an entire year. 12 months of getting to know the Chicken Of The Woods mushroom absolutely inside out, top-to-bottom. And then, after a full year start the same process over again with another wild mushroom.
And I won’t be touching any more mushrooms without gloves, that’s for sure.