There is a mushroom that, if you eat it, will make you dreadfully sick for a few days, before experiencing what seems like a miraculous recovery. For the next week or two, internal organ damage may be comparatively symptom-free, or seem like part of your recovery, until you die of liver failure. It’s known as the Angel of Death, and is one of many fascinatingly fatal fungi to be found in the Pacific Northwest.
Despite what urban legends, fairytales and cautious parents would have you think, truly deadly or dangerous mushrooms are relatively few. The overzealous fear of wild mushrooms has come about because, to the untrained eye of the inexperienced forager, many different species look alike and it seems impossible to tell edible from poisonous.
If you can develop your mushroom identification and foraging skills, however, you bring within your reach a wealth of untapped food sources. If you every find yourself living in a forested or field ecosystem, mushrooms can make up a significant part of your calorie intake, as well as provide particular proteins and minerals to your diet. One way to go about gaining confidence foraging is to familiarize yourself with the most dangerous mushrooms.
If you’ve ever played a keen herbalist in Skyrim or Oblivion, you’ll recognize some of the mushrooms in this guide. Skyrim and Cyrodiil are each home to many different species of mushrooms and fungi, all with unique properties that often match a specimen of the same name in the real world. Some, like the hydnum azure, appear to be taken from nineteenth or early twentieth-century mycology texts, but don’t readily yield an equivalent species under modern classification. Here are the ones that do:
Imagine a mushroom made of marshmallow full of tiny holes that ooze out droplets of raspberry jam when squeezed. The fruiting bodies of Hydnellum peckii look either extremely toxic or weirdly delicious, but are neither: this mushroom is classified as inedible due to extreme persistent bitterness which cannot be removed through cooking or drying.
Much too small to bother accidentally eating, you’ll find bog beacon (Mitrula paludosa) as trooping groups in very wet areas. They look like matchsticks with shiny yellow to orange tips.
Clouded Funnel Cap
Once considered to be edible, the reputation of this plentiful and chunky mushroom is now, like it’s name, clouded. It hasn’t been associated with deaths like the more toxic toadstools, but can seriously upset the stomachs of some people, so it is recommended that you avoid it.
Also known as Amanita Muscaria or the Fly Agaric, this mushroom is a psychoactive basidiomycete fungus, one of many in the genus Amanita (which also includes the Angel of Death). The Fly Amanita is classified as poisonous, but it has an important symbiotic relationship with forests (especially birch and pine plantations), and human cultures through Siberia and Finland have a history of using it as an entheogen. When sliced thinly and boiled in plenty of water, the harmful toxins are deactivated, making it possible to consume more safely.
Pholiota squarrosa, commonly known as the shaggy scaly-cap or the scaly Pholiota, is a species of mushroom common in North America and Europe. Some old sources describe the scaly pholiota as edible, but more recently it has been connected with several cases of poisoning. The individuals poisoned had consumed alcohol along with the mushroom, and experienced vomiting and diarrhea about twelve hours later. Scaly Pholiota is one of a few mushrooms known to be edible when cooked under certain instructions, but cause toxicity when cooked and eaten in the same way within hours or days of alcohol consumption.
You’ll recognize this fungus, common throughout Europe and the American northwest, by its phallic shape and repulsive stink. Despite it’s foul smell, the common stinkhorn (white rather than red, as pictured here and in the Elder Scrolls series) is not poisonous, and immature mushrooms are in fact consumed in parts of France and Germany.
If you want to develop your real-life mushroom foraging skills (not that we’re maligning your Tamriel mushroom foraging skills), we recommend following these three steps:
- Get your hands on a brilliant field guide like Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest: Timber Press Field Guide.
- Use a spaced-repetition software program like Anki or Quizlet to study, modify or create a fungi-recognition deck from scratch. This is particularly useful for learning to tell the difference between dangerous ‘lookalikes’ such as the chanterelle / jack-o-lantern mushrooms.
- Find an experienced forager or foraging group and physically go foraging with them as often as practical.
More Great Reading Material
If you want to delve even deeper, we recommend any of the following books.
Have Awesome Photos of Your Own?
If you awesome photos of mushrooms you’ve found in nature, please share them with us in the comments section! Be sure to tell us where it’s from.