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Poisoned by touching mushroom?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Q. My wife and I were in our backyard recently when I saw a good-sized mushroom. I bent down to pull it when my wife said, “Stop! It could be poisonous!” So, I’m asking if I could be poisoned by touching a mushroom?

Brandon from Niles

A. Brandon, thank you for your question. We’re glad to help, but want to be sure you won’t use this to win an argument with your wife. For the record – never a good idea.

The answer is, no, you cannot be poisoned by touching a mushroom. The toxins in poisonous mushrooms must be ingested before they can cause you any harm.

Your question made us think about providing more information about wild mushrooms to help the public understand them better.

What is a mushroom? Mushrooms are the fruiting (reproductive) bodies of some fungi whose purpose is to disperse spores to start a new generation of fungi.

Mushrooms can be found just about anywhere: in lawns, pastures, forests, in mulch, on stumps, living trees and in unusual locations like basements and on plasterboard walls.

The most common time to see mushrooms is in the spring or fall after a rain: but they can be found all year long if conditions are favorable.

The fungi that produce the mushrooms play important roles in the environment.

There are at least 2,000 kinds of wild mushrooms in Ohio. Some are poisonous, some are delicious, but for most of them, it is unknown if they are safe to eat. Some people rely on rules of thumb for distinguishing edible mushrooms from poisonous ones. Such as, “If you see a squirrel eating a mushroom, it is safe to eat,” – but this is false. Or, “Cooking mushrooms will make them safe to eat, “ – this, too, is false. In fact, none of the rules of thumb for selecting or preparing wild mushrooms have been found to be accurate.

The only way to safely eat wild mushrooms is to know what type of mushroom it is. But it is difficult even for mushroom experts (mycologists) to tell the difference between edible mushrooms and poisonous ones. When it comes to eating wild mushrooms the only rule of thumb to follow is: if you are not absolutely certain what type of mushroom you are about to eat… don’t eat it.

For more on wild mushrooms through our updated factsheet, visit: http://go.osu.edu/mushrooms.

Today’s answer is provided by David Sprague, OSU Extension master gardener volunteer. Call the office hotline at 330-533-5538 to submit your questions. Regular clinic hours are 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays.