Things to Avoid

This section of the website is designed to give you an overview of commonly-confused toxic plants and mushrooms. It contains two Families that should ideally be avoided by the novice forager, some helpful colourful warnings that some mushrooms present to us to let us know that they are potentially dangerous, as well as those toxic plants and mushrooms that could be confused with a small number of the wild edibles found in the Finds Catalogue. For reference, I have also included a short list of other toxic plants and mushrooms that you should avoid eating due to their high toxicity, such as the aptly-named Death Cap mushroom, Hemlock Water Dropwort, and Monkshood. Whilst these may not be easily confused with any of the edibles in the Finds Catalogue, I do feel it is still important for you to understand how dangerous they can be, and how to ID them so you can avoid accidentally gathering them for the table.

It goes without saying that the plants and mushrooms listed here are to be avoided for eating, and not avoided all together! They can and should be explored and enjoyed as the amazing and often beautiful things that they are! Getting to know toxic varieties of plants and mushrooms is a very important lesson in outdoor education for everyone, especially children.

Arthur exploring an Amanita rubescens, "The Blusher", an edible member of the Amanita family of mushrooms. This family contains some lovely edibles, but also some of the world's most deadly mushrooms, so to avoid any possible confusion, we don't pick any Amanitas for the table.

Firstly, A Little Bit About Risk ...

There is nothing more inevitable than exploring a foraging website and coming across a page that's all about the more dangerous side of this wonderful pastime - a page (or more!) describing toxins and poisons and their potentially deadly effects. I'd love to say to you that these claims are overly exaggerated, or simply untrue, and that you and your gleefully-foraging children are utterly, perfectly, one-hundred-percent, safe, but that unfortunately, would be a lie. There are indeed toxic and poisonous plants out there, and some may be closer than you think - perhaps even residing happily in your garden right now. Most will, at best, only make you feel a little unwell; some can cause blisters and burns; and a small few, in truth, could kill you. Upon hearing these horrid truths, it is no surprise to find that many parents simply decide that foraging is not for them, let alone their children. This is perfectly understandable - our children are the most precious thing in the world to us - why would we expose them to such hazards!?

The above may sound like I'm trying to put you off, but the truth however, is that the benefits that foraging responsibly and safely can bring to both you and your children, far outweigh the risks that can present themselves whilst doing it. Provided we diligently follow the Golden Rules on this website, the actual likelihood of falling afoul of a toxic plant or mushroom will be minimised to an extremely low level. The wild foods detailed in the Finds Catalogue have been specifically chosen because they are easily identified and have no, or very few, toxic lookalikes. By sticking to these to begin with, your foraging activities with your children will remain, on the whole, very safe, and when combined with the Golden Rules linked-to above, the risks become negligible. It is only when we start to ignore our safety responsibilities and/or forage at skill levels beyond our expertise, that foraging becomes dangerous. With that said, let's take a closer look at some of the more dangerous finds you may encounter.

Two Families Novice Foragers Should Avoid

These two families contain some of the UK's most deadly species. Although there are numerous good edibles within each family, it is highly recommended that beginner and novice foragers avoid eating any members until their identification skills improve. Click on the images below to learn more about the common traits of each family.

Finds Catalogue Lookalikes

The plants and mushrooms below could potentially be confused with one or more of the wild edibles in the Finds Catalogue. Each toxic species links to those finds they could be confused with in the Finds Catalogue, allowing quick access.

Colourful Warnings in Mushrooms

When some mushroom are cut, bruised, or damaged, the flesh can sometimes erupt in a flush of colour, known as "staining". Whilst not all mushrooms in a particular family that do this are toxic, the toxic ones in that family all do. This can therefore be a good method of indentifying potential toxicity for the Novice forager, giving them an indication that the mushroom may be dangerous and should be avoided for eating.

Blue Staining Boletes

The Boletes are a great beginner mushroom family and are characterised by stout caps and stems and tubular pores on the underside of the cap as apposed to gills. They are generally considered quite safe, as only a very small number are toxic. Luckily for us, these toxic varieties, such as Satan's Bolete, stain blue almost immediately when cut open. Although some edible boletes, such as the Scarletina, also stain blue when cut, to be safe, a novice forager would do well to simply avoid eating any blue-staining boletes altogether until they have developed their ID skills further.

Yellow Staining Agarics

The Agaricus genus of mushrooms is quite popular among foragers, and contains lots of edible varieties, such as the Horse and Field Mushrooms. Although popular, the close similarities between species can make it quite difficult to narrow down a correct ID, which is why only two members are featured on this website as suitable for beginners, the Prince and the Princess, which can be recognised by their scaly caps and unique aroma. One member in particular however, is very common and can cause gastric symptoms due to it's toxicity - Agaricus xanthodermus, or The Yellow Stainer. This species looks an awful lot like "standard" mushrooms available from the supermarket. It does however, let us know that it's toxic by staining bright yellow when cut or bruised, particularly around the base of the stem, but also around the cap when scraped with a nail. It also has a distinctly chemical smell, which is another key identifying feature.

Image Credit: By Velella - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Very Dangerous Individuals

The plants and mushrooms detailed below may not have any obvious lookalikes in the Finds Catalogue, but they are so toxic that it would be a good idea to both familiarise yourself with, and avoid eating, especially when foraging with children. Clicking the images will take you to their respective Wiki page so you can learn more about them.

“... Love is like a poisonous mushroom. You don't know if it is the real thing, until it's too late ...”