Foraging Fatality Statistics 2016 (Please Share)

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Digitalis purpurea
POISONOUS Digitalis purpurea “Foxglove”

The information in this article is vitally important for anyone who is interested in foraging, mushroom hunting or wild crafting. If you can share this information and help save 1 person it is worth it.  It’s cold and snowy here in New England right now and far from prime foraging season but I thought this might be a good time to reflect on this information as we prepare for spring or venture out for winter foraging. It is now early 2018 but the most recent complete information I could obtain was from 2016 and that Is what will be included in this article. The benefits of foraging are abundant and well known. Not only can we increase nutrient diversity by foraging but many would say that the more important benefit is connecting with nature. Often people who have been out in the field foraging describe it as literally a spiritual experience for them. I agree with that sentiment and I strongly support promoting the knowledge and mental health benefits of foraging. Although the vast majority of foragers never experience any negative side effects I sometimes see a dangerous attitude of not respecting the risks associated with foraging creep into the community from time to time.  This information can be emotionally strenuous to consider but we must all take some time to make sure that our actions will not lead to anything like the negative impacts that some people experience. We sometimes chock it up to something that happens to other people, but obviously that delusion comes crashing down for a few people each year.

 

Plant and Mushroom Poisoning Statistics 2010-2016

The majority of the data in this article is from the AAPCC(American Association of Poison Control Centers) and I will be referring to them as AAPCC. The data from AAPCC includes the number of cases filed with the AAPCC and whether their outcomes are minor , moderate, major or resulted in death. These cases are from the US only. Although the question “how many people in the US die from foraging each year?” is important, It is also pertinent to review the number of whats refered to in the data as  major outcomes. These are cases where the people have not died but have had very bad outcomes including but not limited to hospitalization, organ transplants, and permanent neurological damage. Included in this article I have reviewed statistics from 2010-2016. It is worth noting that these numbers are the minimum number of actual cases each year. It is completely conceivable that some cases of major outcomes and fatal poisoning are unreported to the AAPCC for one reason or another. It’s impossible to know the actual numbers but this information will give us the statistics and some details on all the cases that have been looked into and confirmed to be plant or mushroom poisoning with somewhat high certainty. The AAPCC has categorized the reason for poisoning into a few different categories and sub categories. For example they have categories such as intentional-abuse, intentional- suspected suicide, intentional-misuse, unintentional-misuse as well as a number of other categories and sub categories. The “unintentional” category generally seems to relate closest to foraging incidents.They also have a rating system for fatalities that indicates to what extent the exposure likely caused the final outcome, this will not be included in my summary of the data.  All this additional data can be found on the original reports which you can access by going to the AAPCC Reports Page. For the purposes of my summarization of the data I have separated the cases that lead to fatalities into 4 categories: intentional, unintentional, unknown, and a catch all category for cases who’s reasons were unavailable or in an uncommon category.

Suicides

Sadly while going through this information it made me acutely aware of the suicide epidemic that our country suffers from. A significant percentage of reported fatal plant and mushroom poisonings are suspected to be intentional suicides. As mentioned above I will separate out these numbers to distinguish between intentional and unintentional poisonings. Not all intentional poisonings are considered suicides but many are. These devastating suicide deaths can teach the foraging community at least one important piece of information about plant toxicity. Cases of intentional poisoning can act as a warning to us by demonstrating the toxicity of certain plants or mushrooms that may not often be misused accidentally while foraging. We can at least take away the knowledge that these highly toxic organisms exist and they are both in the kingdom of fungi and plants. Later in this article I will go over specifically some of the most common plants and mushrooms that could cause death or severely bad outcomes.

 

Plant and Mushroom Poisoning Statistics

The table below is a compacted summary of all cases that resulted in at least a minor outcome. A more detailed table can be seen HERE: Plant and Mushroom Poisoning Statistics Summary. The more detailed table show the breakdown of cases of fatalities of plants vs mushrooms each year as well as breaking up the fatalities into intentional vs unintentional cases.

Year Minor Outcome Moderate Outcome Major Outcome Death Outcome
2016 Plants and Mushrooms 5668 1529 102 13
2015 Plants and Mushrooms 5226 1397 68 6
2014 Plants and Mushrooms 5067 1300 77 7
2013 Plants and Mushrooms 5124 1263 79 3
2012 Plants and Mushrooms 5358 1441 86 9
2011 Plants and Mushrooms 5343 1487 100 6
2010 Plants and Mushrooms 5648 1486 84 3

(For a more detailed summary of the fatality cases broken up in to more categories see THIS PAGE)

I wish I was able to present this data as a percentage. Unfortunately there is no way to know how many people in the United States forage for plants or mushrooms or how often. We can get a little bit of reference by looking at other risks that people in the US are typically worried about. For example not one person has died in a US run airline in 7 years and that is something people worry about on a regular basis, you’d be more likely to die from foraging over the last 7 years statistically, but you have a lot more control over what you forage than your airplane experience. On the other hand 480,000 deaths were attributed to tobacco each year from 2005 to 2009. Clearly regular tobacco smoking is much larger of a concern then accidental poisonings from foraging.  So instead of trying to figure out if these few deaths or 50-100 major outcomes are a lot or a little I’ll point out  the specific mushrooms and plants involved and review some of the specific cases.

 

Specific Poisonous Mushroom and Plant Groups That Have Caused Major Outcomes

To get an idea of what the statistical risks are while foraging or experimenting with plants or mushrooms it is important to consider the category of major outcomes as well as deaths. The larger sample size for major outcome statistics makes it potentially a better way to identify the risks than just looking at what plants and poisonous mushrooms resulted in death. Major outcomes do not include death but do include such serious consequences as hospitalizations, organ transplants and others. These major outcomes do include all types of exposures such as intentional, unintentional, recreational and others.

Poisonous Mushroom
POISONOUS Amanita Phalloides “Deathcap Mushroom”
(Photo By: Danny Steaven / Wikimedia Commons)

Below are the 5 most common categories for major outcomes due to plant ingestion and the 3 most common categories for mushrooms. The number next to the category is how many major outcome cases were recorded by the AAPCC from 2010-2016. Specific species are not available for this data. The example plant genuses next to each category represent plants in the category but may or may not represent the actual plants involved in the cases.

Plant-Anticholonergics(Datura, Brugmansia, Atropa) : 67

Plant-Hallucinogenics(mitragyna”kratom”, probably others): 59

Plant-Gastrointestinal Irritants(Phytolacca”pokeweed”, probably others): 26

Plant-Cardiac Glycosides(Digitalis, Convallaria, Nerium): 16

Plant-Stimulants(Ephedra, coffea) : 9

Mushroom-Cyclopeptides(Amanita”deathcap”, Galerina, others): 46

Mushroom-Hallucinogenics(Psilocybin, Psilocin): 38

Mushroom-Muscimol(Amanita”Fly Agaric”): 16

It is likely that many of these are a mistake made in judgement or quantity ingested and not a mistake in identity of the species such as is likely for the Plant-Anticholonergics as well as the other hallucinogenic plant and mushroom categories.  On the other hand there are a couple categories that are likely a mistake in identification such as Plant-Cardiac Glycosides(digitalis in particular) and Mushroom-Cyclopeptides.

Specific Poisonous Mushroom and Plant Species That Have Caused Death

These are the specific species or type of organism that resulted in death from 2010-2016. Each line below represents one fatality unless there is another number of cases next to the name.

Plants – Non-Suicides

Cardiac glycoside(digitalis)

Cardiac glycoside(unknown)

Aconitum napellus

Brugmansia suaveolens

Mitragyna speciosa(Kratom)

Manihot esculenta (cassava)

Ibogaine

Aleurites moluccana

Pinus genus – This genus is not known for poisonous species – exact species and additional details are not given

Allium sativum(Common Garlic) + Ethanol – This species is not known to be highly toxic – additional details are not given

Mushrooms Non-Suicides

Cyclopeptides(Unknown but Probably Amanita phalloides): 7 Cases

Cyclopeptides(Amanita or Galerina)

Amanita phalloides

Amanita pantherina + Russula fragilis + Gymnopilus spectabilis

Coprinus comatus + Coprinus atrametarius –These species are not known to be highly toxic – additional details are not given

Plants-Suspected Suicides

Taxus baccata: 2 Cases

Cardiac Glycoside: 3 Cases

Ricin

Nerium oleander

Mitragyna speciosa

Aconitum napellus + Ethanol

Solanum dulcamara + Other Pharmaceuticals

 

Have Fun but Play it Safe When Foraging!

In My opinion the most important message to take from this information is simply that it is possible to be accidentally and fatally poisoned or severely impacted as a direct result of not taking all precautions when it comes to experimenting with foraged or even purchased plants and mushrooms. Visit our article on Safe Foraging Practices for more information on how to avoid the potential dangers that could be involved in foraging. The final section in this article includes links to the information on specific cases of fatal poisonings. Although this information may be hard to read it could be important in relating to the victim’s situation which might help us to realize that some of these tragic events aren’t as far from our own foraging practices as we assume.

Specific Cases of Fatal Poisonings

(Remember the case number when you click the link, sometimes they are a little hard to spot in the data. Links may not go to the correct page in some browsers and mobile devices)

2016
Case 1681. Acute cyclopeptide mushroom ingestion: undoubtedly responsible

2015

Case 254. Acute Taxus baccata ingestion: undoubtedly responsible

Case 256. Acute cardiac glycoside ingestion: undoubtedly responsible

2014

Case 265. Acute Amanita phalloides ingestion: probably responsible

Case 266. Acute mushroom (cyclopeptides) ingestion: probably responsible

Case 268. Acute mushroom (gastrointestinal), Coprinus comatus, Coprinus atrametarius ingestion: undoubtedly responsible

Case 296. Acute Aconitum napellus ingestion: probably responsible

2013

No Specific Case Information

2012

Case 413. Acute mushroom (cyclopeptides) ingestion: undoubtedly responsible

Case 417. Acute mushroom (cyclopeptides) ingestion: undoubtedly responsible

Case 418. Acute mushroom (cyclopeptides) ingestion: undoubtedly responsible

2011

Case 283. Acute cyclopeptide mushrooms ingestion: probably responsible

Case 304. Acute ibogaine ingestion: undoubtedly responsible

2010

No Specific Case Information


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Lion’s Mane – An Edible Mushroom That is Unmistakable


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Lion’s mane mushroom strictly refers to Hericium erinaceus but other members of the genus Hericium are very similar and can be identified and used in the same ways. This is a genus of edible mushrooms that also have medicinal properties. These mushrooms are easy to identify and have a great unique flavor. Mushrooms in the genus Hericium are sometimes hard to find but they grow in much of north america and the world so it’s beneficial for all of us to be familiar with this unique genus.

Edibility and Culinary Use

Lion's mane mushroom
Lion’s mane mushroom (Photo By Penny Firth (pfirth) at Mushroom Observer./Wikimedia Commons)

Lion’s mane mushrooms grow on mostly living hardwoods, this makes them easy to spot but a little bit hard to prepare sometimes.  After you’ve removed the mushroom from the tree it is recommended to cut off all the discolored or woody portions, you should be left with just spongy white material, It often looks a little bit like cauliflower. These mushrooms are extremely absorbent so if you wash them with water you will need to squeeze the water out afterward like you would with a sponge. Their extreme absorbency can be a positive or negative attribute when cooking them.  They taste very good fried with butter or oil but do not add a lot of oil since they will soak it up. You can also use them is in a soup but keep in mind they will soak up a lot of water and the taste of the soup. The taste is said to be similar to lobster.  Historically lion’s mane mushrooms were a delicacy in south east Asia and other parts of the world. It has a long history of culinary use.

Health Benefits

This is another case of a mushroom that should be clinically studied much more to hone in on how effective this mushroom is at treating certain conditions and generally improving health. There is a long list of claimed health benefits for lion’s mane mushrooms such as improving brain function, improving nerve generation, helping with Alzheimers, depression, anxiety and much more. There have been some positive clinical studies relating to temporary cognitive improvement for people who are mildly cognitively impaired and improved neuron regeneration.

Cautions

Lion's mane mushroom
Lion’s mane mushroom (Photo By Lebrac / Wikimedia Commons)

There are no known side effects to Lion’s mane mushroom. These mushrooms are relatively easy to identify but incorrect identification is always a risk for novice mushroom foragers particularly.

Key ID Features

These mushrooms grow on hardwoods. particularly oak and beech. What makes these mushrooms very easy to identify is that they are toothed fungus. The long hanging spines are very unique, mushrooms in the genus Hericium have different length spines, Hericium erinaceus can be identified by spines longer than 1 cm in length.

Conclusion

The lion’s mane mushroom is a great mushroom for beginners because there are no poisonous look a likes if you use proper identification information and it has a very large range where it grows. It’s also a very interesting find for all mushroom hunters because of its interesting look and unique flavor.  This mushroom shows very promising results for cognitive and neural improvement as well as a long list of other potential health benefits.

Read our Article on: Safe Foraging

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Cottonwood Buds are Medicinal, Leaves are Edible


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Cottonwood Tree

Cottonwood seeds
Cottonwood seeds collecting on the ground (Photo By: EnLorax G. Edward Johnson / Wikimedia Commons)

The eastern cottonwood tree (Populous deltoides) is a native North American tree that is common in eastern and central United States as well as southern Canada. Many people recognize this tree from the cottony substance that falls from the trees in early summer.  This “cotton” acts as a sail to move the seeds as far from the parent tree as possible. Cottonwood trees are a riparian species which means that they thrive in wet and semi-wet conditions, but these trees can also handle drought which makes them very well suited to a range of environments. These trees are often seen along the edge of water bodies.  Cottonwood trees are known to grow very large, in fact they are one of the largest deciduous trees in North America, one tree in Pennsylvanian was recorded to be over 100′ tall. Cottonwood trees are also known to be brittle and I personally have seen a number of them break in moderate winds. Cottonwood trees are recognized by many people but the edibility of their leaves and health benefits of cottonwood buds are often overlooked. This article primarily refers to eastern cottonwood, but this information likely applies to other cottonwoods such as fremont’s cottonwood(Populus fremontii) which is native to the southwestern U.S.

Edibility of Cottonwood Leaves

cottonwood buds
Small Summer Cottonwood Buds and Leaves (Photo By: Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service / Wikimedia Commons

This was a surprise to me when I learned that not only are cottonwood leaves edible but they are extremely nutritious. According to a very reputable edible plant database (pfaf.org) cottonwood leaves contain a greater amino acid content then rice, corn, wheat, and barley.  One problem I see with eating cottonwood leaves is the taste.  This is a tree that is very abundant in my area and I have eaten small portions of cottonwood leaves before, but they tend to be very bitter. This bitterness might be able to be reduced by cooking or drying but I have not had the opportunity to experiment with that yet.

Health Benefits of Cottonwood Buds

Cottonwood buds and bark contain salicin which is a compound that likely breaks down into salicylic acid(asprin). Preparation of cottonwoods buds or bark with oil, or alcohol can make a natural medicinal product with similar properties to aspirin.  This would be used externally or internally for pain relief, inflammation or fever.  Other medicinal uses of cottonwood bark have been recorded such as treatment of whooping cough, tuberculosis, colds, and intestinal parasites. Whenever you make a product that concentrates the compounds of an edible plant the product may not be edible anymore, use caution if using any concentrated product internally. A closely related species (Populus balsamifera) is used to make a North American version of balm of gilead, a fragrant oil with medicinal benefits. These benefits are likely very similar to eastern Cottonwood buds and bark.

Cautions

There are no major cautions associated with the plant, buds or leaves other than that some people may be allergic to cottonwood sap.  There seems to be a link between people who are sensitive to bees also being sensitive to cottonwood sap. Exercise caution anytime you use a new product externally or internally.

Key ID Features

cottonwood bark
cottonwood(Populus deltoides) bark (Photo By: KENPEI / Wikimedia Commons)

One good identification feature for cottonwood trees is their size, but that doesn’t help someone who is trying to harvest cottonwood buds or leaves. Another good identification feature is their deeply furrowed bark.  These 2 features are shared by other related species such as the tuliptree(Liriodendron tulipifera). The leaf shape of cottonwood trees will set them apart from tuliptrees. Tuliptrees have very distinctive leaves. Cottonwood leaves are triangular with course teeth along the margins. Cottonwood buds are also somewhat distinctive, in winter and early spring they are large, long, and pointed. One last identification feature is to follow the cotton in early summer. Put all these identification features together and you should be able to confidently identify cottonwood trees.

Conclusion

This is one of those plants that a lot of people are aware of but many people simply view as a weed tree. Not only is this tree a native plant but it offers impressive nutritional and medicinal benefits as well. I would encourage more people to experiment with eating cottonwood buds and leaves in different ways. In my opinion this plant could be an important edible plant because of its high amino acid content, especially for people that don’t eat meat. If you love to try new wild edibles, give this a try and leave a comment below with your experiences.


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Subscribe to our mailing list

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

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