A to Z Challenge: D (poisons & stories of their use)

Death Cap Mushroom

Fast facts:
– Amatoxin is the toxic compound
– Lethal in small doses
– Often found under/near oak trees
– Heat doesn’t destroy the toxin
– Causes organ damage, particularly liver and heart
– Native to Europe and parts of North Africa
– Feral species in the Americas and Australia
– Cause of 90% of fungus related deaths
– Death cap mushrooms were responsible for the deaths of composer Johann Schobert and Roman emperor Claudius

Death cap mushrooms
Death cap mushrooms under an oak tree in Canberra, Australia
From: ABC

Death cap mushroom, Amanita phalloides, originated in Europe and parts of North Africa, however, thanks to the shipping of timber and live seedlings around the world, it has spread to the Americas (most common in California) and Australia (most common in Canberra – thought to have arrived with the importation of oak trees).

The toxin (amatoxin) takes a number of days to kill. The toxin needs to be ingested, but every part of the mushroom is toxic, and there is no preparation or cooking method that will remove it. Symptoms appear between 6 and 24 hours after eating the mushroom (usually nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea). The problem is, those who are poisoned usually improve after a day or two, giving a false impression of recovery. But by that stage the toxin can have caused serious liver damage which can be fatal. This is another poison where the victim is conscious throughout what is a horrid death.

In Australia, fatalities from the mushroom have been mostly in the Chinese community as the Chinese straw mushroom (safe to eat) looks very much like the death cap.

Death cap mushroom comparison
A half open death cap mushroom (left) beside a straw mushroom (right) growing in Canberra.
From: ABC

Four people in Australia have died from eating death cap mushrooms since 2001 with a further four becoming seriously ill. The 2012 New Year’s Eve incident in Canberra involved a respected chef, Liu Jun, who worked at a Chinese bistro. He was a fan of foraging and fresh food and used his local finds to prepare a private dinner for friends after the official New Year celebrations ended. He and one of his guests died a few days later waiting for liver transplants. A third guest recovered, not having eaten as much of the stir-fry that contained the poisonous fungi.

Deaths from the mushroom have occurred historically, including homicide:
– Agrippina, wife of Roman Emperor Claudius, is believed to have plotted to poison her husband by including the deadly fungus in a meal.
– It is very probable that the death in Vienna, in 1740, of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI was the result of poisoning by death cap mushrooms.
– Composer Johann Schobert died after eating the poisonous mushrooms that he insisted were edible.



27 comments on “A to Z Challenge: D (poisons & stories of their use)

  1. Giggling Fattie

    April 5, 2021 at 9:22 pm

    *eyes my mushrooms in the fridge suspiciously*

    I have a guess for tomorrow!! Ether?! Idk if you can kill someone with it but it’s my guess haha and I’m not googling anything I shall wait until you educate me 😂

    I am really liking this theme, AJ!

    • I know, right! It makes me think back to when I was a kid and at a friend’s and we had dinner with her uncle telling the story of how he’d harvested the mushrooms on our plate from a field. Now I’m thinking I narrowly escaped certain death *grin*

      Glad you are enjoying it, GF.

  2. Wow – that sounds like a really awful death. I think they were the culprits on an episode of Midsummer Murders where mushrooms were the murder weapon.
    Really fascinating post.

    • They did have mushrooms as the murder weapon in one episode (I think with all the episodes in that series, most methods of poison have been exhausted).

  3. Good one. I won’t eat a mushroom found in the wild for fear of finding these.

  4. Good to know about these deadly mushrooms. I like mushrooms, but only get them from the grocery store.
    Interesting theme for the A to Z! 🙂

  5. Yuck, this sounds scary. Particularly the apparent recovery after a day or so, at which point the liver may be damaged significantly. That composer should be in a show like A Thousand Ways to Die.

    • A poison that lulls you into a false sense of security is particularly nasty, isn’t it. Very scary.

  6. Hmm, a good omelet with mushrooms… the good ones of course ;))

    • Haha, only the good ones (if I didn’t love mushrooms so much knowing this would put me right off eating them).

  7. I love mushrooms and am fascinated by foraging, but refuse to do it. This is exactly the kind of stupid error I would die by…eating something bad for me. Great read!

    • I’ve always loved the idea of foraging as well, but I know I’d poison myself. I’m even too nervous to eat at any restaurants that use foraging techniques for their food (and we have a few in Australia that do that).

  8. I was thinking that the D word would be your first foray into pharmaceuticals, but the world’s deadliest mushroom works.

    I won’t mention the drug by name because it might fit under the plant name, but it has been a TV plot or six recently.

    Those mushrooms have made it all the way from Florida to British Columbia, must be a lot of folks with murder on their minds.

    • If the one you are referring to is the one I am thinking of, you were right to think that (hmmm, cryptic enough, lol).

  9. I would never eat mushrooms that had been foraged. I’m leery of mushrooms anyway, but this just highlights how easily one could mistake safe to eat mushrooms from poisonous ones.

    • I love mushrooms but would only ever eat store bought. Although I have been tempted to buy a mushroom growing kit. They would be as safe as grocery store I’m sure.

  10. Another really interesting post. I love this theme, probably because I love mysteries.

    • I think anyone who loves mysteries has to be interested in poisons (cause it can’t be just us, right 😉 )

  11. Giggling Fattie

    April 6, 2021 at 11:18 am

    Literally everything in Austria is trying to kill you! 😂

  12. We call it murder mushroom 😀 Very aptly named.

    The Multicolored Diary

    • I hadn’t heard that name for it before, but perfect name for it (and I like the alliteration).

  13. Oh my goodness imagine going for dinner to and the chef killing you and himself in the process. My Grandmother used to pick mushrooms in the woods near her but she was always absolutely militant about what she picked and would never eat or accept any from anyone else as she didn’t trust others not to get the wrong thing. She always made me super wary of it and so I never forged for fungi myself as a result


    • I think there’s a romantic connotation with picking your own mushrooms thanks to movies – but not so romantic if you end up dead!

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