Watch out for wild mushrooms

22 April 2021

As the weather turns colder and wetter, South Australians heading outdoors are reminded to not pick and eat wild mushrooms.

The Department for Health and Wellbeing’s Scientific Services Branch Director, Dr David Simon, said while some wild mushrooms might look like common supermarket varieties or mushrooms popular overseas, ingesting them can cause serious illness or even death.

“Mushroom poisoning causes violent stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea,” Dr Simon said.

“It can take several hours for symptoms to appear and can last for up to three days. Poisoning from varieties such as the death-cap mushroom can cause serious liver damage, which can be fatal.

“These types of mushrooms commonly grow and thrive in wet weather conditions and we often see a surge in calls made by South Australians to the Poisons Information Centre coinciding with this time of year.

“Each year, around two-thirds of calls made to the hotline about mushroom poisonings involve children less than five years-of-age. Nine of the 14 cases handled by the hotline so far this year involved young children and four of these were referred to hospital.

“In 2020 there were 20 per cent more calls made about mushroom exposure to the Poisons Information Centre than the previous year, which may be attributed to more people being active outside when COVID-19 restrictions were in place.”

Senior Botanist for the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium of South Australia, Dr Teresa Lebel, said this year’s mushroom season is expected to be bountiful, with ideal growing conditions after South Australia’s particularly wet summer stimulating bumper growth in the still warm earth.

“This is why it will be especially important this year to keep an eye on children and pets outside, as mushrooms are easily in reach and can look interesting and attractive to eat,” Dr Lebel said.

“People should only eat mushrooms purchased from a reliable greengrocer or supermarket, as there is no simple way to tell if a mushroom is safe to eat or not, and even experts can have difficulty identifying certain species from each other.

“Even if a mushroom looks exactly like one you would pick up off a supermarket shelf or like other edible mushrooms people are familiar with from overseas, the best advice is not to eat them at all.

“One major problem is that species such as the death cap can be easily mistaken for the Stubble Rosegill Volvopluteus gloiocephalus, since the latter species is very similar to the Paddy Straw Mushroom Volvariella volvacea, a delicacy in Asian cuisine.

“In addition to the death cap, there are other wild mushrooms in Australia that have caused fatalities or can make you seriously ill, including species of Cortinarius and Galerina, and the ghost mushroom which is commonly mistaken for oyster mushrooms.”

If you suspect you or someone you know has eaten a wild mushroom, do not wait for symptoms to appear. Contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for advice and always call triple zero (000) in an emergency.

If you suspect your pet has eaten wild mushrooms, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Year Total Mushroom Cases handled by the Poisons Centre Calls regarding children under five-years-of-age Calls referred to hospital
2021 (Jan - March) 14 9 4
2020 111 68 12
2019 93 72 31
2018 68 38 9
2017 80 48 13
2016 79 51 19
2015 68 44 17
2014 85 50 20
2013 106 72 23