The number of people requiring medical treatment after eating poisonous fungi has risen dramatically this summer, prompting fears that many others will be taken ill during the remaining weeks of the wild mushroom season.
The Health Protection Agency's National Poisons Information Service has already received 209 calls this year from NHS staff attempting to treat suspected mushroom poisoning – a steep rise on last year's 123 enquiries and the 147 in 2008. One-third were for adults seeking medical attention after deliberately eating mushrooms they had picked.
The wild mushroom season began in late August and continues for several more weeks. A wet August and September have caused a bumper crop. Mushroom expert John Wright said that this had attracted many first-time foragers.
The UK's most commonly eaten poisonous mushroom is the yellow stainer, Mr Wright said, because it is easily confused with common edible varieties. "They look like your average field mushrooms or shop-bought mushrooms. You can tell they're dangerous, though, because the edge of the cap and the stem go bright chromium yellow when you rub them and they smell of Elastoplast."
The death cap is responsible for the majority of mushroom poisoning fatalities in the UK. In 2008, an Isle of Wight woman died after eating death caps. The author Nicholas Evans was hospitalised after eating deadly webcaps in Aberdeenshire.