Don’t eat the wild mushrooms!

By Karen Zautyk

You can see them on the lawns and in the parks and just about anywhere the grass grows: Wild mushrooms, springing up in abundance.
“With all the recent rain, there has been a tremendous bloom of mushrooms,” noted Dr. Steven Marcus,  executive and medical director of the N.J.  Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES).
NJPIES is concerned because, although most folks  just leave the mushrooms alone, some people – for whatever reason – are tempted to pick them and eat them. And eating them can make you very sick. Or dead.
Last week, following the reports of  nine mushroom-related poisonings in New Jersey within 36 hours – at least two cases in Hudson County – NJPIES issued a warning against eating any wild mushrooms, since even those thought to be edible can be dangerous.
Luckily, none of last week’s cases proved to be fatal. One of the Hudson victims was admitted to Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus; the other, to Hoboken University Medical Center.
“They were lucky,”  Marcus told The Observer. “The type of mushrooms they ate caused just vomiting and diarrhea.”
Why would anyone would pick and eat wild mushrooms in the first place? Aside from culinary curiosity, it could be a cultural thing. Marcus noted that in some countries, particularly in Eastern Europe and Asia, wild-mushroom hunts are common. But the mushrooms around here, though they may resemble the types found abroad, are not the same.
“There are a lot of look-alike mushrooms here that are toxic,” Marcus said. “They look like the ones in the old country, but they are poisonous. You really have to be a mushroom expert to be absolutely certain which is which.”
This was emphasized in the warning NJPIES issued: “There is no easy way to tell the difference between poisonous and harmless mushrooms. In addition, poisonous and nonpoisonous mushrooms can grow side by side.  Even experienced mushroom pickers can be fooled at times, so this warning needs to be given and taken seriously.”
The agency noted that eating “even a few bites of certain mushrooms can cause severe illness.”
It also asks that  children be taught never to put wild plants, berries, nuts, or mushrooms into their mouths.
Some symptoms of mushroom poisoning include intense vomiting and diarrhea. There can also be damage to vital organs like the liver. And mushroom poisoning can also be fatal.
What to do if someone eats a wild mushroom? NJPIES advises: “If an exposure should occur; remove any remaining parts of the mushroom from the victim’s mouth and place those fragments and all mushrooms that are in the immediate vicinity of the incident into one or more paper (NOT plastic!) bags.
“Immediately call the NJ poison center at 1-800-222-1222.  It will arrange for an expert to identify the mushroom, and the center can then provide advice on management depending on the mushroom’s identification.
“A digital photograph should be taken of the mushroom(s) in question.  It helps to take a picture of the mushroom next to other objects such as a coin, ruler, etc., to provide a sense of scale.”
If exposure is even suspected, NJPIES advises not waiting until symptoms appear. For any type of suspected poisoning, call that 800 number cited previously. It is staffed 24/7, 365 days a year,  by doctors, registered nurses and pharmacists, and translation services are available in more than 100 languages.
The hearing impaired may call (973) 926-8008. For more information, visit or call (973) 972-9280.

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