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Eight poisonous mushrooms to avoid when foraging in Norway

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Eight poisonous mushrooms to avoid when foraging in Norway
Photo by Ryan Hersha on Unsplash

With a bumper mushroom-picking season expected in Norway this year, here's our list of the fungi to fear.

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If you suspect that you or a child may have eaten a poisonous mushroom, ring the helpline at the Norwegian Poisons Information Centre on +4722591300, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

The centre has also produced a helpful brochure in English listing all main poisonous mushrooms to avoid in Norway. 

READ ALSO: How to pick mushrooms in Norway like you've been doing it all your life

Here's a list of some of the mushrooms you should avoid in Norway, starting with the four species that might actually kill you.

The Killers

The Destroying Angel (Hvit fluesopp)

Photo by Ryan Hersha on Unsplash

Unlike the more obviously dangerous members of the Amanita family, such as the bright red and spotty Fly Agaric (see main pic), Destroying Angel, or vit flugsvamp, looks relatively innocuous. Don't let this fool you: it is one of the deadliest mushrooms in the world. 

As its cap is completely white and it can be confused with the Horse Mushroom (åkersjampinjong), the Dove-coloured Tricholoma (silkemusserong), or the St George's Mushroom (vårfagerhatt).

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Horse Mushrooms, however, have pink or brown gills, whereas the Destroying Angel's are completely white, and also, unlike the Angel, Horse Mushrooms have no cup-like structure (volva) at their base.

Similarly, Dove-coloured tricholomas and St George Mushrooms do not have a ring around the stem or a sack around the base. 

The destroying is done by the poison amatoxin, which damages or kills cells in the liver, kidneys, and heart, and in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. The first symptoms – severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, thirst and decreased urine – start between four and 48 hours after ingestion, with liver failure and, sometimes, death coming not long afterwards. 

According to the Poison Information Centre, the Destroying Angel is "common in forests" in Norway. 

If have eaten less than a sugar cube's worth, you may not need to go to hospital. Any more that that and you should go quickly.

The Death Cap (Grønn fluesopp)

The Death Cap deserves its name. Photo: Archenzo/Wikimedia Commons

The Death Cap, or Grønn fluesopp, also contains amatoxin and is every bit as deadly as the Destroying Angel.  

A giveaway is its strong ammonia-like, chemical odour. It tends to have a slightly sticky cap, which is about 15 centimetres wide, and sometimes a green or yellow tint.

Finally, it has crowded, completely white gills, so beginners can avoid eating one by following the simple rule of never picking or eating anything with white gills (although this does mean missing out on some tasty mushrooms).  

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Death caps can be confused with the Paddy Straw mushroom, or grå sliresopp (Volvariella volvacea) which are popular in Thailand, and as a result with Thai immigrants. The Paddy Straw doesn't grow in Norway.

When young, it has an almost completely spherical, bowl-shaped cap, which means it can be confused with puffball mushrooms or røyksopp. If you think you have found a puffball, cut it in two. If it is solid inside, with no sign of a developing cap or gills, you can eat it. 

If they have a green-tinted cap, they can be confused with the Green Brittlegill or Grønnkremle, but the Green Brittlegill never has a ring around the stem, whereas Death Caps do. Also Green Brittlegills grow mostly under birch, whereas death caps grow under beech, oak, hazel, or on meadows. 

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According to the Poisons Information Centre, the Death Cap is rare in Norway and the mushroom only causes a handful of fatalities a year in the whole of Europe and Russia. 

As with the Death Cap, a sugar cube's worth is survivable, more than that, less so.

The Funeral Bell (Flatklokkehatt) 

The funeral bell is, as the name suggests, pretty deadly. Photo: Lebrac/Wikimedia Commons

The Funeral Bell contains slightly lower concentrations of poisonous amatoxins than the Death Cap and Destroying Angel, but serving your guests a mushroom stew made from a batch is still quite likely to leave at least some of them dead. 

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It's also very common in Norway, according to the Poisons Information Centre, and can be confused with the edible Sheathed Woodtuft, or stubbeskjellsopp, which is usually larger, has protruding scales on its foot, and grows in clusters on the stumps of various deciduous trees.

The British forager John Wright, in his excellent River Cottage Handbook on mushrooms, recommends staying on the safe side by avoiding both. "The rule that little brown mushrooms should be avoided is a good one," he writes. 

The Deadly Webcap (spiss giftslørsopp)

The Deadly Webcap. Photo: Eric Steinert/Wikimedia Commons

Some people pick this common and really rather dangerous mushroom believing them to be Funnel Chanterelles or traktkantareller. But they are so different that doing so requires utter carelessness. 

The thing that makes falling foul of this mushroom particularly cruel is the length of time it takes for symptoms to appear: up to seventeen days, according to the River Cottage Handbook (although they can appear in two). Those affected suffer vomiting, diarrhoea and shivering, followed by kidney failure and most likely death (or if they're lucky, kidney transplants).

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The related and similarly deadly Fool's Webcap, or Orangebrun giftspindling, is rare in Norway. It looks similar, but lacks an orange zigzag line around the stem.  

The best way to avoid mistakenly eating either of them is to stick to the aforementioned rule of avoiding all little brown (or indeed orangey brown) mushrooms with brown gills. 

Easy mistakes that might make you a bit ill 

The Brown Roll-rim (Pluggsopp)

The Brown Roll-rim. Photo: Strobilomyces/Wikimedia Commons

The Brown Roll-rim is perhaps the poisonous mushroom that is most commonly eaten in Norway, with some believing it to be edible so long as it is parboiled before cooking with the water then thrown away. 

According to John Wright, it is indeed true that parboiling removes a toxin which causes short-term gastrointestinal upset. Unfortunately though, repeatedly eating them even when parboiled can cause the body to develop a severe allergy called "Paxillus syndrome" that involves a "catastrophic large-scale destruction of red blood cells". This is why the mushroom is the third most-common cause of fungal poisoning in Poland.

Some people confuse it with the Rufous Milkcap or Rødbrun pepperriske, which you can recognise by the little wart-like bump in the centre of the cap. 

The Sickener (Rødkremle)

The Sickener. Photo: Piotr J/Wikimedia Commons

Brittlegills, with their (yes) brittle white gills and stems that break with a snap, are easy to identify once you know how, and have the advantage that none of them will make you seriously ill. But the Sickener, or Rødkremle, is poisonous enough to bring on a spate of vomiting. 

The easiest way to distinguish them from other red brittlegills is to nibble the corner of one and see if it tastes unpleasantly acrid or peppery, in which case it might be one and should be avoided. 

If you don't want to even risk this, though, you could just make a rule of avoiding all red brittlegills. 

Common Inkcap (Grå blekksopp)

Photo: Michael Palmer/Wikimedia Commons

Piicking the common inkcap is a "classic mistake" made by people looking for Shaggy Ink Caps or Matblekksopp. 

The strange thing about this mushroom is that it is not even poisonous so long as you don't drink alcohol within 72 hours of eating it. If you do, it then stops your liver from properly breaking down alcohol, leading to acetaldehyde poisoning, with symptoms including hotness, a red face, a headache, sweating and breathing difficulties.

On the plus side, these symptoms, though severe, rarely extend to organ failure or death. 

The Yellow Stainer (Giftsjampinjong)

Photo: Deividas Makavičius/Public Domain

Swedes tend not to pick mushrooms in fields and meadows, so rarely come across this one, but it is very common and easily mixed up with Horse Mushrooms, Field Mushrooms, or Wood Mushrooms.

It only contains low concentrations of the active poison, phenol, so is unlikely to cause much worse than a spate of unpleasant vomiting. 

According to the cheery Marlow Renton from Wild Food in the UK, one way to tell it apart is by the way the cap and the base of the stem turn a bright chromium yellow when cut or bruised.

Horse mushrooms and wood mushroom can also stain a little bit yellow, however, meaning you may have to rely instead on your nose. Yellow Stainers have a distinct chemical smell (it's the phenol). Horse mushrooms and wood mushrooms, on the other hand, smell delicious (if sometimes slightly of aniseed). 

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