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Plant poison and mushroom poison

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 347 views

Lily of the valley, foxglove, oleander are beautiful to look at, but poisonous. There are also fungi that have toxic ingredients. Depending on the type and dose ingested, such plant toxins and fungal toxins can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, for example. Some even trigger cramps, respiratory paralysis or cardiac arrhythmias, even cardiac arrest. However, some of the toxic substances also have a valuable benefit for us humans.

Beautiful plants, poisonous plants

Dangerous beauties often thrive in forests and meadows, along roadsides and in gardens. Autumn crocus , thorn apple, deadly nightshade, monkshood , henbane, yew and the extremely poisonous water hemlock are among the most important native poisonous plants .

Poisoning with such plants often occurs in small children – for example when they put the pretty blue-black berries of the deadly nightshade, which resemble blueberries , in their mouths. In adults, for example, plant poisoning can occur if, when picking wild garlic, the leaves of the lily of the valley or autumn crocus are accidentally collected and then prepared.

The toxins in such plants have different effects. For example, deadly nightshade contains alkaloids such as atropine. It can cause hallucinations and convulsions. The autumn crocus is dangerous because of the colchicine it contains. It inhibits cell division and can cause shortness of breath and heart failure.

Plant toxins in medicine

But it is precisely the potent, often specific effect of some plant toxins that makes them interesting for medicine. Because in many cases, it is the dose that makes the poison. What makes you sick or even kills in large amounts can be an effective medicine in smaller amounts. For example, the poison of the autumn crocus (colchicine) is used to treat gout to reduce joint pain.

Probably the best-known example of a poisonous plant that is used medicinally is the foxglove. The yellow or purple flowering plants contain digitalis. This active substance enhances the contraction of the heart muscle, increases arterial pressure and normalizes the beating function of the heart. It can help with cardiac insufficiency or poorly closing heart valves. In too high a dose, however, digitalis causes cardiac arrest.

Toadstools – Deadly likelihood of confusion

Poisoning with plants is comparatively rare, since the poisonous representatives often taste bitter and do not encourage consumption. Fungal poisoning is more common. Some toadstools resemble edible specimens, so that the tasty mushroom dish can turn into a death knell.

Fortunately, most native mushrooms are harmless. Of the more than 10,000 large mushrooms growing in Europe, only about 150 are considered poisonous. And very few contain toxins (mycotoxins) that are life-threatening to humans.

Little is known about such fungal toxins. Despite the most modern analysis methods, only a fraction of them have been decoded. Their structure is often very complex and they are often only present in very small amounts in the fungus. In addition, some toadstools contain a veritable poisonous cocktail with variable amounts of the various ingredients – often depending on the age of a mushroom.

The “Green Killer”

The most dangerous native toadstool is the death cap mushroom, popularly known as the “green killer”. In addition to the toxin phallotoxin , it also contains amatoxins (alpha and beta amanitin), which are ten times more toxic than the adder’s venom. A single mushroom of about 50 grams is enough to kill an adult human. For children, about half is enough.

Amanitin inhibits a vital enzyme called RNA polymerase. Without them, the body cells can no longer produce proteins – they die. The liver cells are primarily affected. The organ fails after four to seven days. Particularly insidious: While diarrhea with vomiting sets in after the consumption of other mushroom toxins, which at least partially transports the poison out of the body, the toxin of the death cap mushroom remains in the body.

Other toadstools

Hairy veils like the orange-fleshed roughneck contain the toxin orellanine. It only triggers nausea and vomiting, an intense feeling of thirst and reduced urine production two to 24 hours after consumption . Orellanus syndrome occurs two to 18 days after eating the mushrooms: there is increasing kidney damage, which can lead to kidney failure, as well as liver damage. Consuming 50 to 100 grams of the Orange-Foxed Roughneck leads to death.

Gyromitrin, the toxin of the spring morel, is also very toxic . The so-called gyromitrin syndrome begins with nausea, headache , colic and diarrhea with vomiting. There is slight jaundice for a day or two. From the third day, cramps, disturbances of consciousness as well as liver and kidney failure occur. The lethal dose is 20 to 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight for adults and 10 to 30 milligrams per kilogram of body weight for children.

For comparison: Depending on the location and other environmental conditions, one kilogram of fresh mushroom contains between 1,000 and 1,500 mg of gyromitrine. A large part of the poison can be washed out if you boil the mushrooms several times and discard the cooking water each time. Poisoning cannot be completely ruled out, however, because people react differently to the poison.

Fly agaric poisoning is known as Amanita muscaria syndrome. It begins with restlessness, headaches, nausea, sweating and anxiety. Later, drowsiness and the urge to move alternate. In severe cases, fits of rage, convulsions, and coma occur.

Funnel fungi and crack fungi also contain the toxin in larger amounts. Poisoning with these mushrooms is called muscarinic syndrome. It starts with vomiting and sweating. As a result, excessive salivation, colic, constriction of the pupils and shortness of breath develop. In very severe cases, pulmonary edema and circulatory failure occur. Atropine – the poison of deadly nightshade – can be administered as an antidote to muscarine.

Dangerous combination with alcohol

In addition to real mushroom poisoning – triggered by the consumption of poisonous mushrooms – there is also fake mushroom poisoning. They are caused, for example, by spoiled edible mushrooms or the combination of a mushroom dish with alcohol. In some mushrooms, certain ingredients develop toxic effects when mixed with wine, beer and the like. This applies to Schopftintling , for example :

The mushroom is known to be tasty (especially when young), although it contains the mushroom toxin coprin. This is only toxic if it is taken with alcohol or if you drink alcohol 24 hours before or up to 48 hours after the mushroom meal. Then Coprinus syndrome occurs. The first signs are flushing, flushing and palpitations. Further consequences can be a drop in blood pressure, shortness of breath and collapse. The reason: Coprin inhibits a special enzyme that is necessary to convert the toxic acetaldehyde that occurs when alcohol is broken down into acetate – the effect lasts for around three to five hours.

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