The best rule about how to tell poisonous from nonpoisonous mushrooms is that there are no rules.  For example, two of the oldest supposed rules, that poisonous mushrooms make silver spoons turn black, and that nonpoisonous mushrooms can be peeled, do not apply to the deadliest mushrooms.  Every year, a few people die in the U.S. from eating poisonous mushrooms.  The problem has existed for some time.  Pliney the Elder, writing in ancient Rome, noted that Agrippina murdered her husband, the emperor Tiberius Claudius by feeding him poisonous mushrooms.  She did so in order to make her own son emperor.  Unfortunately, he turned out to be Nero.


Upon eating poisonous mushrooms you can expect the following symptoms:  nausea, vomiting, chills, and fever.  Tremors appear some six to eight hours after ingestion and often pass in 24 hours.  Unfortunately, three to six days later, symptoms of liver failure appear because the toxin, which prevents the growth of new cells, concentrates in the liver.  Death may be prevented by a liver transplant or massive doses of penicillin.




“Magic” mushrooms (Psilocybe  species and others) produce chemicals (e.g. plilocybin and psilocin) similar to the brain neurohormone, serotonin, and cause vivid hallucinations.  In southern Mexico, the town curandera, or shaman (similar to a witch doctor), ingests the mushrooms for a price, and interprets the visions for the client, predicting the future, finding lost items, or other fortune-teller-like services.  The renowned sixties guru, Timothy Leary began his wild ride by trying magic mushrooms in order to better understand mental states of mentally disturbed people.  Unfortunately, we cannot ask him how his experiments turned out, for he is dead.  The autopsy revealed that years of drug abuse had fried his brain “beyond anything they had seen before”.


Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) is a mycorrhizal mushroom native to northern America, Europe, and Asia.  It often grows in a fairy ring:  a circle of mushrooms that appear about the same time (often after a wet night) at the tips of an underground mycelium that grew outward from a tree root.  Effects include illusions of great changes in dimensions accompanied by enormous physical exertion.  A straw on the ground becomes an obstacle that requires a great leap in order to clear it.




These are major crop parasites (e.g. wheat, corn, barley, rye, oats) that do not form large mushroom-like fruiting bodies.  Several species of one genus Puccinia, are native to the Middle East and may have been responsible for the seven lean years of famine predicted by Joseph in the Old Testament.  (“The seven lean and gaunt cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine.  Genesis 41:27).