QUITE apart from the fact that the empirical tests that are quoted again and again exclude many edible kinds, they are utterly useless because they do not exclude many very dangerous species. One of these, the so-called ‘death-cap ‘ought to be recognised before any attempt is made to eat any fungus. The ‘death-cap ‘is normally about five inches high with a cap some three inches or four inches across. It is olive grey and streaked with very thin dark lines. The underside of the cap is covered with white gills that remain white throughout and never become pink or black as do the gills of a mushroom. There is a ring around the, and close to the base, usually half-hidden in the ground, is a membranous cup-like structure that enclosed the toadstool in the ‘button ‘stage. A mushroom never has this cup at the base of the stem and any fungus possessing such a structure should be regarded with suspicion until more is known about it.
The poison of the ‘death-cap ‘fungus is swift and fatal. Usually the first symptoms are experienced six to twelve hours after the toadstool has been eaten and are the common ones of food poisoning—sickness, diarrhoea, vertigo; later,
muscular cramp may occur. Finally, the patient will die after some four days of agony and may be considered comparatively fortunate if his suffering is not further prolonged. There is rarely any recovery as the poison destroys the blood and the patient dies from the accumulation of his own body-poisons, possibly after a long period of intense pain. There are other ‘killers ‘besides this fungus, that are eaten from time to time by ignorant people, but if this species can be excluded there is usually some hope for recovery.
While mentioning the ‘death-cap ‘it may be said that its ally, the red-capped fungus with white spots that grows under birch trees, is not nearly so virulent, and small quantities of it produce only an intense intoxication. It is said that at one time a regular trade existed with the Kolchaks for this fungus. It was used in religious ceremonies so that a whole tribe could enjoy mass drunkenness.