🍄 Wild mushrooms grow throughout New Jersey but many are poisonous

🍄 Toxic mushrooms damage vital organs and can be fatal

🍄 Know what to do if you ingest poison mushrooms — it could save your life

More than twice as many people have been hospitalized for eating poisonous mushrooms in New Jersey this year compared to last and doctors are warning people to stay away from wild fungi.

Thousands of New Jerseyans enjoy foraging for wild mushrooms in forests or backyards. The New Jersey Mushroom Lovers Facebook group has around 12,700 members and is just one such group in which people post photos of mushrooms they've found in the forest before eating them.

Foraging season in New Jersey is typically between June and the end of October, but the season can continue into early November depending on the weather. Warmer and wetter conditions are better suited to fungi growth.

But doctors at the New Jersey Poison Control Center warn there are many dangerous kinds of mushrooms in the Garden State including the deadly amanitas.

A Caesar's amanita mushroom (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
A Caesar's amanita mushroom (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Symptoms of poisonous mushrooms can include vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and liver damage. Adding to the danger of eating wild mushrooms is that their toxicity cannot be removed by cooking them at high temperatures.

How many hospitalizations in NJ for mushroom poisonings this year?

As of Oct. 13, 131 people had gotten sick from eating wild mushrooms this year, according to Dr. Bruce Ruck, managing director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. That's up from last year, which saw 130 reported cases for the entire year.

The number of illnesses is likely higher as some people don't know to report their cases to the NJPCC.

The number of serious cases has also gone up. In 2022, 47 people went to the hospital after ingesting poisonous mushrooms and 31 were treated and released. This year, so far, 61 people have gone to the hospital with 39 needing treatment.

And last year, there were just three people who were admitted to the hospital for poisoning. But in 2023, eight people have been admitted to critical care after going to the hospital for mushroom poisonings.

Should you pick wild mushrooms to eat?

Ruck strongly urges people not to pick wild mushrooms unless they are with an expert. That goes for any area whether it's a forest or a backyard.

strongly poisonous toadstool (Amanita virosa) in forest
Strongly poisonous toadstool (Amanita virosa) mushrooms in the forest (dabjola)

"The problem is there are many mushrooms that look alike, have very similar colors, shapes, and sizes to each other, and they're not necessarily the same," Ruck said.

Some people may turn to doing their own research and look up pictures of mushrooms on the internet to tell the difference. With so many kinds of mushrooms that look the same with names that are very similar to each other, it's very easy to get mixed up and accidentally eat something poisonous.

"Unless you're an expert, I can't emphasize enough not to do this," Ruck said.

What should you do if you eat a poisonous mushroom?

The first thing to do if you eat a poisonous mushroom by accident or start to experience symptoms after eating a wild mushroom is to call poison control immediately.

It's crucial for any person who chooses to eat mushrooms despite his warnings to first add the phone number for poison control to their cell phone, Ruck said.

That number is 800-222-1222. It will transfer the caller to the closest poison center and put them in contact with a trained nurse, pharmacist, or doctor.

Poison control in New Jersey has experts who can help identify mushrooms and give guidance for anything that may have been eaten by mistake.

If there was another mushroom of the same kind on the ground next to the one that was eaten, the caller should take a photo of it. Placing a quarter next to the mushroom before snapping the photo can help give the expert an idea of how large it is.

"Our healthcare professionals are here 24/7, 365, if you do have questions about this or other things that you may have eaten accidentally," Ruck said.

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