Scouting magazine

Life saving steps to reverse poisonous-mushroom ingestion

Forest mushrooms might look yummy, but some can kill. Here’s what to do if a Scout in your troop or crew eats one.


On a weekend campout in the Pacific Northwest, you groggily arrive at the Bear patrol’s table for a hot breakfast. A young Scout on morning duty offers you a fluffy omelet filled with forest mushrooms—just picked! Recoiling in alarm, you notice his empty plate: He’s already eaten. What should you do?


First, assume the worst.

Before anyone else is potentially poisoned, throw the omelets into the fire—even if they come with toast and a side of home fries (throw those in, too). Next, place a sample of each type of mushroom in a plastic bag and scatter or bury the rest. Third, locate the nearest hospital that has an emergency room—and get very good directions.

There is a wide range of factors to consider when dealing with accidental forest mushroom ingestion. Not only are many varieties of poisonous mushrooms virtually indistinguishable from their benign counterparts, but the toxins within them vary widely—as do their effects and the delay before the onset of symptoms.

Toxins range from those that attack the gastrointestinal tract and the renal system (kidneys) to those that affect the central nervous and immune systems. A single poisonous mushroom species may have only one toxin, or it may have several. This variability often complicates treatment. This is also why it’s critical for emergency personnel to identify the type(s) ingested—hence the importance of preserving samples. Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable to severe injury and death from toxic mushroom ingestion.

The affected Scout should be taken to a hospital immediately. Depending on the type of mushroom eaten, the onset of symptoms might not occur for as many as 24 hours following ingestion. On the way to get help, write down the following information: the near-precise time the mushrooms were eaten, all types ingested, and the amount of each. This is important if the toxins from one variety mask the symptoms of another.

Because the nearest hospital might not be equipped to accurately identify the mushrooms, telemedicine or the Internet may be used for remote diagnosis. You can assist medical personnel by taking careful photos of each type of mushroom ingested, which could be sent to another facility for identification. Note that the mushrooms should be kept in a zip-top bag and not handled, since inhalation of spores also can be dangerous.

If you find that the nearest emergency room is many hours away, research suggests that the administration of activated charcoal can delay or limit the absorption of most toxins, and it’s often used for victims of mushroom poisoning, regardless of when the mushrooms were eaten. Activated charcoal sold at retail stores typically comes in capsule or liquid form. Use it only as a last resort and if you can’t reach a hospital quickly. If possible, contact a poison-control center by phone before administering.

If you’re deep in the backcountry, the BSA Fieldbook (No. 33104) advises Scouts who’ve ingested poisonous plants to induce vomiting. Save the vomit in a plastic bag to help identify the mushroom. Seek immediate medical attention.

It sounds gross, but the key to treating mushroom consumption is identification. Taking these steps to treat consumption of mushrooms can be the difference between life and death.

JOSH PIVEN is co-author of the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series. Find him online at