Use Caution to Avoid False Morel Mushrooms

Contact: Kelly L. Niebel (517) 241-2112
Agency: Community Health

May 26, 2011

May and June is morel hunting season here in Michigan. A pastime enjoyed by many, morel mushroom hunting can turn dangerous if people eat false morel mushrooms.

This spring the Children's Hospital of Michigan Poison Control Center (PCC) has seen an unusually high number of patients with severe toxicity resulting in hospitalization after eating mushrooms that look like morels. These false morel mushrooms contain the toxin gyromitrin which can cause severe illness. As of Thursday morning, 11 people have been hospitalized in Michigan.

Onset of illness is usually six to 48 hours after consuming false morels. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, muscle cramps, bloating, and fatigue. Untreated, people may go on to develop confusion, delirium, seizures and coma. The gyromitrin is toxic to the liver and can lead to right sided abdominal pain, hepatitis and jaundice (yellow skin) within 48 hours and in serious cases increased bruising and bleeding due to loss of blood clotting factors. False morels include the Beefsteak (Gyromitra esculenta) and Early Morel (Verpa bohemica) mushrooms.

True morels (Morchella species) are known for their incredible flavor, but they too can cause illness if large amounts are eaten, they are undercooked or eaten raw, or if they are eaten with alcoholic beverages. For true morels, toxicity begins within a few hours and consists of nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain lasting less than 24 hours.

Individuals with questions or concerns regarding wild mushrooms can call the PCC at (800) 222-1222. Individuals who have eaten wild mushrooms and develop any of the symptoms described should see a physician immediately. Taking one of the mushrooms to the doctor (place mushroom in a paper bag, as they will fall apart in plastic), or a picture of the mushroom, will help the physician provide proper treatment. The PCC also can accept emailed pictures from your doctor for identification and provide advice for treatment.

For more information about false and true morel mushrooms, a fact sheet is available on the Department of Community Health website at www.michigan.gov/mdch-toxics.