Dabble With A Death Cap
There is an avenue of trees leading through a local
housing estate, it's beneath these trees during the
autumn period that groups of edible mushrooms are to
be found. Local people out walking their dogs or
making their way to the shops never stop to gather
themselves a free meal on the way through.
As a nation we are also unaware of the wide selection
of different species of edible fungi there are to be
found growing in our local parks. Consequently
pitifully few local people forage the woodland tracks
in search of edible fungi. "No one seems to know the
real reason for our national distrust of fungi." This
is a strange traditional taboo, when scores of people
make their way to their local parks, to gather their
annual quota of black berries, elder berries and sloes
However, it can rightly be assumed that in the recent
past there have been several local horror stories
circulated, and that these disaster warnings were
echoed throughout the country. It was the introduction
of food rationing during the war years that made way
for a back to nature movement here in Britain.
"Desperation is the English way," is a quote from the
pop group Pink Floyd. Unfortunately with only a few
age-old proxy methods of identifying poisonous fungi,
deadly species such as the Death cap, Amanita
phalloides, found its way on to the dinning table.
Consequently, between 1920-50 thirty-nine mortalities
were recorded by the Register General for England and
Wales. Furthermore, most if not all of these
mortalities were attributed to the deadly toxins of
As an experiment I decided to have an imaginary dabble
at Russian roulette. Writing the names of fifty common
species of fungi on to a sheet of paper, cut and
folded they were then added to a vessel and given a
shake. It was then only a matter of how many dips were
needed to take Amanita phalloides from the vessel.
This experiment might well have recreated the scene a
few hours before those hungry back to nature victims
ate their last meals.
The Death cap's availability will vary from season to
season. Consequently in some parts of the country the
chances of finding Death caps might be far greater
than finding this species locally and visa versa. For
example the Death cap is very common in Hockley woods.
Locally however the Death cap had only made brief
local appearances over the past few seasons, and that
it had appeared in only one solitary area of the park.
However, so abundantly common are False Death caps in
the park that the Death cap could be easily over
looked, especially if it grew in amongst the former
It was in the late summer of 1995, and just inside the
entrance gate to the park that there was the usual
troop of False Death caps. Two of the specimens
however appeared to be slightly larger than the rest.
But for the reason mentioned above, this casual
observation didn't compel me to take a closer look. I
had passed this troop several more times before the
larger specimens began to appear somehow different to
the extent of my having to examine one of the
To my surprise I discovered this fungus had no smell.
So it was with caution that I took a small piece of
flesh from the cap and began to chew it. The False
Death cap has a distinct smell which varies in
intensity with the amount of humidity in the air. In
south-east Essex it either smells of raw potato, or it
has a combination of smells resembling rotten peas and
sweet perfume. It also has a particularly nasty
flavour. I was now almost convinced that this fungus
was a Death cap, because together with no smell it had
no flavour. Having removed the whole of the fruit body
from the soil, I confirmed my initial discovery by
noting that the base of the stipe had a loose fitting
jacket, a feature missing from the volva of the False
It was only a few seconds after my gruesome discovery
that I spat out the flesh of this fungus. I then made
my way to a near by tap and gave my mouth a thorough
rinse-out. This disclosure may convince the reader of
just how easy it is to dabble with the deadly toxins
of "AMANITA PHALLOIDES."